In February, the U.S. economy added about 236,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level in nearly four years, renewing optimism about the health of the national job market. Of course, the optimism was immediately dashed by the realization that Congress is punching the economy in the gut, on purpose.
Merrill Lynch said this morning that job creation will likely shrink to below 100,000 in April and May as "sequester-related job cuts are implemented."
I mention this for a couple of reasons. The first, obviously, is the mind-numbing realization that Americans' own elected officials are choosing to deliberately make the economy worse.
But the other reason is that it offers an important rejoinder to those who spent last week asking whether President Obama "cried wolf" over the dangers associated with sequestration. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza, for example, said after the sequester hit, "(almost) no one noticed" and the "sky-is-falling language seemed overblown."
Outside Washington, as the Huffington Postreported, Americans are seeing a different message.
The Huffington Post reviewed dozens of local television news broadcasts, using the service TVeyes.com, to survey coverage of sequestration outside of the Beltway.
The local stations didn't ignore the controversy over the White House tours being closed, and several broadcasts featured political analysts arguing that sequestration's impact had been dramatically overhyped by the administration. But they did tend to dig more deeply into the ramifications of the cuts, looking at how people around the country -- besides the lucky Americans who get to tour the White House each year -- will be affected in their daily lives.
The sequester deadline passed nearly two weeks ago, and as a result of these unnecessary, across-the-board cuts -- cuts congressional Republicans now cheer as a GOP "victory" -- there's already ample of evidence of real harm to real people. In addition to Huffington's report last week, TPM had a related piece this morning.
Greg Sargent also had a sharp take on the larger dynamic.
There's been a good deal of triumphalism among Republicans about the sequester of late, with many of them claiming the cuts are a "win" for them, and others pointing to Obama's outreach to Republicans as proof that the White House is nervously recalibrating its strategy in response to his supposed slippage in the polls. Beltway press coverage -- understandably -- is heavily focused on the winners and losers of every micro news cycle and on whether the White House botched the theatrics of this battle (did Obama cry wolf?) by making a number of specific false sequester claims (which were rightly debunked by fact checkers).
But this local coverage tells a different story with a different emphasis. Real people around the country are beginning to tune into the possibility that these spending cuts could do real damage to their communities and to the country's economic recovery.
I heartily agree with all of this, but I'd add just one related thought.
Going into 2013, there was reason to believe the U.S. economy would start to see a more stable and robust recovery, with stronger growth and vastly improved job creation. With positive projections on the horizon, Congress has responded with the following: an end to the payroll tax break, more public-sector layoffs, the possibility of a government shutdown, the possibility of a debt-ceiling crisis, and a sequestration policy that's already undermining the economy.
Ideally, lawmakers would be taking deliberate steps to improve the economy, but at this point, I'd be satisfied if congressional Republicans stopped making things worse.