And when I say "Congress," I'm really talking about Congressional Republicans. Sure, the Democrats are no bargains in this (pushing the health care bill during the peak of the recession will go down as one of the dumbest legislative moves ever), but it's the GOP that is largely to blame for a fiscal mess that has only made the overall economy worse. Their incompetence and ideological intransigence has been breathtaking. Economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers say that the political debate over the economic stimulus and TARP and the budget deficit is really a sham - that there's a clear consensus among the experts on most major macroeconomic issues. From their piece on Bloomberg:
Let's start with Obama's stimulus. The standard Republican talking point is that it failed, meaning it didn't reduce unemployment. Yet in a survey of leading economists conducted by the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, 92 percent agreed that the stimulus succeeded in reducing the jobless rate. On the harder question of whether the benefit exceeded the cost, more than half thought it did, one in three was uncertain, and fewer than one in six disagreed. Or consider the widely despised bank bailouts. Populist politicians on both sides have taken to pounding the table against them (in many cases, only after voting for them). But while the public may not like them, there's a striking consensus that they helped: The same survey found no economists willing to dispute the idea that the bailouts lowered unemployment.
The Washington Post's Ezra Klein has identified 14 reasons why this is the worst Congress ever, starting with the fact that so little legislation has been passed. It's also the most unpopular Congress (only 10 percent approval).
In 2011, congressional Republicans came closer than ever before to breaching the debt ceiling and setting off a global financial crisis. In the end, they pulled back moments before we toppled into the abyss. But by then, they had already done serious damage to the recovery. Early in the year, the economy seemed to be gathering momentum. In February, it added 220,000 jobs. In March, it added 246,000 jobs. In April, 251,000 jobs. But as markets began to take the Republican threats on the debt ceiling more seriously, the economy sputtered. Between May and August, the nation never added more than 100,000 jobs a month. And then, in September, the month after the debt ceiling was resolved, the economy sped back up and added more than 200,000 jobs.
The supposed upside of the deal to lift the debt ceiling led to the creation of the Special Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction -- better known as "the supercommittee." The supercommittee, which was comprised of an equal number of Democratic and Republican lawmakers from both the House and the Senate could, with a simple majority vote, send its recommendations to the rest of the Congress, where they couldn't be filibustered, amended or otherwise blocked. So that was the carrot: Figure this out, and, in a stunning break from business-as-usual in the sclerotic 112th, the members of the supercommittee could get some big done. There was also a stick: Failure would trigger the so-called "spending sequester," which would cut more than a trillion dollars in dumb, blunt ways that neither party liked and that would badly damage a slowly recovering economy. So how did the supercommittee do? They failed. Now the sequester is armed and members of Congress are frantically trying - and, as of yet, failing - to find a way around it.