News / USA

US Congress Gets Conflicting Advice on Economy, Debt

A demonstrator holds placards to protest U.S. debt in front of the US Capitol in Washington, July 18, 2011 (file photo).
A demonstrator holds placards to protest U.S. debt in front of the US Capitol in Washington, July 18, 2011 (file photo).

Multimedia

Audio
Michael Bowman

For U.S. lawmakers, no issue is more pressing or contentious than how to revive an ailing American economy while confronting a $14.7 trillion national debt. Complicating this monumental task is a sharp divergence of views and recommendations from economists and budget officials on the causes and best solutions for the nation's financial woes.

Recent weeks have seen a parade of America's most-renowned economists and other experts testifying at dozens of hearings on Capitol Hill examining U.S. fiscal and financial matters from every possible angle.

If lawmakers were hoping for consensus from the nation's intelligentsia on how best to navigate perilous economic waters threatening to sink America's financial ship, they have surely been disappointed. Just as members of Congress passionately disagree on what ails the nation and what will cure it, so too do academics and officials who have dedicated their careers to studying such matters.

Consider the question of what, if anything, the U.S. government should do to promote economic growth and job creation. Economists of all stripes agree that an expanding economy will put Americans back to work and reduce budget deficits. But how to achieve that goal is a matter of intense debate.

Alice Rivlin, who served as a budget official during the Clinton administration and co-chaired President Barack Obama's deficit commission, urged lawmakers to embrace an active government role to get the economy moving.

"Unless employment accelerates sufficiently, we are doomed to stagnation and eroding standards of living," said Rivlin.  "The faster we get people back to work, the easier it will be to move toward a sustainable federal budget. If the recovery stalls and unemployment rises again, prospects for stabilizing the debt will deteriorate rapidly. It will be worth some temporary increase in the near-term deficit to avoid getting into another downward spiral of falling jobs, sales, investment, and confidence."

Her words were music to the ears of Democratic lawmakers, like Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, who, like the president, wants Congress to approve a short-term federal jobs program.

"The debt is a nominal factor in our current economic outlook," said Cummings.  "Rather, slowed hiring, low consumer confidence and demand, reduced public investment, and the continuing [real estate] foreclosure crisis are driving our economic conditions and our rising debt, rather than the other way around."

Not so, according to another economist who testified on Capitol Hill this week. J.D. Foster, a budget official under former President George W. Bush, argued the U.S. economy would soar on its own if only a burdensome federal government would let it.

"The economy abounds in opportunities for growth," said Foster.  "But turning potential into reality requires confidence: confidence in the future, confidence in the specific effects of government policy. America suffers a confidence shortage, and Washington is overwhelmingly the cause."

Picking up on that theme was Carnegie Mellon University economist Allan Meltzer, who took aim at the Obama administration's call for higher taxes on the wealthy and some corporations.

"Uncertainty about future tax rates has deterred investment and slowed recovery," said Meltzer.

According to economists like Meltzer, a federal jobs program is ill-advised, as it adds to short-term deficits, raises the debt burden, and increases the likelihood of future tax increases to avoid a fiscal meltdown. Thus, the path to unlocking investment and economic expansion is maintaining current tax rates and cutting federal spending.

That view is trumpeted by Republicans, like Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

"The debt level today already costs us growth and jobs," noted Sessions.  "America's private sector is just waiting to grow and expand, but unwise government policy continues to stand in the way."

However, Alice Rivlin told lawmakers the real cause of America's economic doldrums is not a lack of confidence, but a nation that has stopped spending.

"Lack of demand is the basic problem," added Rivlin.  "If you do not think you can sell your product, you are not going to make more of it."

Public policy groups, like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, say, whatever policies or programs Washington adopts, lawmakers need to keep an eye on the main prize: stabilizing and ultimately reducing a national debt that has grown to the size of America's entire yearly economic output.

On that score, no one in Congress disagrees. But getting there when 14 million Americans are out of work and economic growth has slowed to a crawl is no easy task for lawmakers, or the experts who advise them.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs