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Most of us have heard our more retrograde legislators and cable news pontificators gleefully proclaim the stimulus a failure – despite evidence that it softened the recession fallout considerably (see also here). Wiser observers, such as the Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman, note that more rather than less stimulus was what was really needed if we wanted to give the economy the boost required to rev up the jobs engine:

What we’re in right now is the aftermath of a giant financial crisis, which typically leads to a prolonged period of economic weakness – and this time isn’t different. A bolder economic policy early this year might have led to a turnaround, but what we actually got were half-measures. As a result, unemployment is likely to stay near its current level for a year or more.

Sadly, Krugman is probably correct when he notes that efforts to augment the stimulus with realistic job-creation measures will probably fall victim to the current political climate. The result, according to Krugman, will be “years of terrible job markets, combined with political paralysis.”

Krugman’s grim observations were brought vividly home to me when I came across Claire McCaskill’s comments on the topic of a potential Senate jobs bill:

I think we’ve got to be really careful in thinking we can spend government money to get us out of recession,” said Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, who called for low-interest loans for small businesses.

Nothing too cringeworthy in that pious little observation – but nothing too promising in the vision and courage departments either.  

While the President may set the direction, no president, no matter how visionary or politically savy, can do what needs to be done alone. He needs the support of smart legislators with the courage to take the necessary political risks, not those who, like McCaskill, tiptoe around issues out of fear of offending the sensibilities of the small-minded.

What I want to hear from McCaskill and the rest of the Missouri delegation – the Democrats at any rate, since the Republicans are a lost cause – are serious ideas.  They don’t even have to do the heavy-lifting; there’s lots of good thinking out there for them to draw upon.

Consider, for instance, the Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI) Five-point Plan to Stem the Jobs Crisis, which recommends a WPA style program, along with investments in infrastructure, transportation, and education. The EPI estimates that it would create an estimated 4.6 million jobs in the first year alone, and could be funded by a financial transaction tax, which, in the best progressive style, would hit only wealthiest ten percent.

Why isn’t McCaskill at least addressing ideas like these rather than taking refuge in Republican-lite rhetoric? And why doesn’t she tell us why she is so negative about cap-and-trade? Even honest conservatives like Lindsey Graham admit that controllling CO2 emissions and shifting to a green economy could  power up the economy.

It’s early days yet after all. The President’s job’s forum will take place just tomorrow, initiating the new emphasis on jobs, and there will be time in the coming months for McCaskill to develop her thinking and to communicate her ideas.  Perhaps she’ll blow our socks off.  And perhaps she won’t.