Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 3, 2011
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
June 3, 2011
AUGUST 2; THE JEWEL ON CHURCH STREET; INSIDE POLITICS
Mark it on your calendar.
August 2, 2011 will likely be the next time Congress will come between a real rock and hard place about how to address our fiscal mess.
August 2 is (reportedly) the drop-dead date for when the nation either needs to raise our debt limit or risk default on our financial obligations that could lead the country (and perhaps the world) into another major economic downturn.
Now not everyone in Congress believes that, including some Tea Party Republicans. They say don't increase the debt limit period. Just cut back spending…a lot. But the GOP leadership in Congress is not completely on board about that. Sure, they want major cuts in spending as a prerequisite to raising the debt limit, but they likely will not risk leaving the debt ceiling as it is for risk for getting blamed for any economic mess that might occur if those holding our notes push back.
Frankly, after some improvement in recent months there are already plenty of signs that the U.S. economy is beginning to falter again and could be headed for what economists call a "double-dip recession." The latest indication of that comes from the most recent employment report out today (Friday, June 3) which shows only about 50,000 new jobs created in the last month, much less than expected, with overall unemployment ticking back up to 9.1%.
Those are not the kind of economic numbers that will get a President re-elected (or many in the Congress in either party). The question is, leading up to August 2, can both houses of Congress do more than set up "show" votes (where the purpose is to score political points than resolve the problem). To be sure, coming up with an overall solution won't be easy (particularly about whether to address the issue completely through spending cuts or also add in some tax increases).
But, obviously, something does need to done and soon with the August 2 debt limit deadline now less than 2 months away.
Democratic pollster Stan Greenburg has some advice he is offering to his party (although I think it has some relevance to Republicans as well). According to a Huffington Post article (June 3) by Mark Blumenthal, "Americans perceive no change in the real economy of reduced wages and benefits."
What he means is his polling shows "37% to 40% of Americans report experiencing reduced wages or benefits in the last year, between 35% and 41% report losing a job, 22% to 27% report having lost their health insurance and 13% to 22% report having fallen behind on their mortgages." Greenburg adds: "there is a real economy out there that's not changing" with "23% of voters (who) believe the economy is still at bottom and not improving and 31% thinking it has not yet bottomed out and will get worse."
Greenburg counsels Democrats that continuing to employ "backward-looking messages about who is to blame for the recession or whether the recovery efforts are succeeding are doomed to failure." He is urging "Democrats to look forward, embrace the ongoing economic hardship and propose solutions that target perceived greed and unfairness."
Greenburg says GOP efforts to privatize Medicare as a way to solve some of the nation's financial woes have hurt Republicans with the voters and that opens an opportunity for the Democrats.
But what are these "proposed solutions" he says Democrats need to start offering? And if those solutions target "perceived greed and unfairness" how does that advance the debate and decision- making process in Washington beyond more class warfare?
It's going to be a long, hot summer in Washington.
THE JEWEL ON CHURCH STREET
This past week marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of Nashville's new downtown library.
After a decade of service to the community, it remains "the jewel on Church Street", and I believe the finest public building ever constructed in Nashville. Its treasure goes beyond the many books and other materials and services available within its wall, even beyond the wonderful staff that serves the public so well not only downtown, but in all of the city's public libraries.
What has made this downtown library so special is its public-private partnership, something that began from its genesis and which has given the facility those extra things in terms of architecture, construction, facilities and operations that make it such a world class facility. And so it lives up to the mantra of those who first supported its construction of a decade ago: "A Great City Has a Great Library."
And so it was appropriate in celebrating this 10th anniversary that an ongoing public—partnership made it possible to honor former Mayor and Governor Phil Bredesen, the man who led the effort to construct the library (which was funded with a property tax increase back in the late 1990s).
The honor came with a bust of the former Mayor which was paid for through by private donations. It resides near the top of the grand stairwell of the library just above the second floor landing. Some thought the entire library should be named for Bredesen. But that's not really his style and besides a public library should be just that in its name….the Nashville Public Library. The bust (which bears a great likeness to the man) is really the perfect honor to someone who made it happen despite all the political opposition and skepticism at the time about whether it was the right thing to do. Such opposition seems almost silly today.
During the ceremonies to unveil the bust, the chief architect of the downtown library, Robert A. M. Stern returned to Nashville to help join in the tribute and to remember Bredesen as someone who told him he believed public buildings like a library must reflect the "soul of a community." How true that is and how well the library has done that as it has blended into and nourished our city.
Even one of my son-in-laws, who has just recently moved to Nashville, told me he was surprised to learn that the downtown library had been there for only a decade. He says it seemed to just belong in that location and he thought had been for many years. When I told Library Director Donna Nicely about that, she smiled broadly knowing that this was exactly what was desired in designing the facility and doing so in a way that would complement one of Nashville's other architectural masterpieces, the State Capitol which right is right up the street (at the end of Capitol Blvd.) from the Library.
While celebrating this wonderful first decade of service, the challenge to keep libraries from becoming an endangered species has never been greater. In a recent article by Charles Simic in THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, and excerpted in a recent edition of THE WEEK magazine (June 3), he details all the cities across the country that are "closing libraries or curtailing hours (some of that has even happened here in Nashville). He also raises concerns about "politicians (who) claim the Internet has made libraries obsolete…(or those) politicians in both parties pledging never to raise taxes (making) libraries rank low on the priority list."
"…I find this disheartening," he continues. "Millions of poor people, including many who've lost jobs in the recent recession, depend on libraries for access to the Internet, as well as books, periodicals and the staff they can find there."
"There's nothing quite like a library, with its stacks of hidden treasures, and people of every kind, reading in silence and peace, exploring the collective wisdom of mankind. Nothing so effectively conveys to school children a "sense of awe" about books and reading. In the richest nation on earth, "the sight of a shut-down library' is a terrible thing." So is the thought that someday soon, libraries will be considered obsolete."
With continued vigilance to maintain what Nashville has built over the last decade, let's hope that Nashville always remains that ‘great city with a great public library."
This week on INSIDE POLITICS we welcome back Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell and House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner, both from Nashville.
We get their take on the recently completed legislative session and what they think lies ahead next year.
These folks are on the inside on the Hill so what they have to say can be very insightful (and what they don't say or leave out is interesting too).
You can see INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. on the main channel, WTVF-TV, Channel 5. We are also on several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, which is on Comcast and Charter Cable channels 250 and Channel 5's 5.2 over-the-air digital channel.
Our PLUS air times are 7:00 p.m. tonight (Friday) and 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. Sunday.