06/20/2011 04:24 pm ET Updated Aug 20, 2011

Directly Hiring 4M Workers: "A Line in the Sand" for 2012

The Administration and Congress hear about a lot of issues that certainly need addressing. But, there is no clear message of what peoples' real bottom line is.

Let us give them that clear message: 4 million jobs for 4 years on infrastructure projects, guaranteed by directly hiring the workers, paid for by raising revenues. A candidate, a party, that does not champion this proposal should not be supported.

Does anyone seriously contend that work does not need doing? Moreover, other than government, which built the infrastructure in the first place, what other entity will do that work?

True, there are many places one could lay down a marker concerning a 'litmus test' for support in the 2012 elections -- jobs, immigration, foreclosure relief, deficits, Elizabeth Warren, the war on women, the war on police/firefighters/teachers, clean energy, speculation on the oil markets, the environment, clean elections, wars in Afghanistan/Libya/Iraq, military spending, healthcare, and so forth.

And, one could assemble a list of criteria that need to be met to get one's vote, one's hard work and/or financial support. All are profound and important matters, affecting the lives of the middle class. All are worth fighting for.

But, the more varied and complicated the criteria, the easier it is to forgive inaction, or weak action, on the single litmus test. Demand vigorous action on all, and the expectations become too unrealistic. Moreover, the message becomes diluted, and voters may find it complicated to determine who is really on their side.

Instead, let us together establish one marker, one line in the sand, one litmus test, for determining that any Democrat deserves help with his/her re-election in 2012.

I suggest this one: that the Democrats propose, fight for, and campaign on a jobs bill that has at its core the direct hiring of 4 million American workers for 4 years to do the following: rebuild roads, bridges, sewage, water treatment, pipes, upgrade the electric grid, and retrofit homes and buildings to make them more energy efficient. And, that the cost of that program be paid for by raising revenues. Because this is 100% investment money that will continue to provide value over generations, if the revenue is raised over 10 years to cover a 4-year program, that would make financial sense. But, the net effect on the 10-year budget (expenditures minus revenues) would be zero.

With a stroke of a pen, this would cut the official unemployment rate nearly in half directly, and the increased economic activity would spur additional growth in the private sector. No one denies the work needs to be done. Now is a perfect time to do it.

This has been written several times before But, no one has yet raised it to the level of the litmus test for the middle class and the 2012 elections. Now is the time to do so.

When Republicans, inevitably, raise their hands in horror just for thinking about such a program, it may help to remind the American people that the government created all this infrastructure in the first place. It served us well for more than half a century. Why, pray tell, should government not be charged with fixing it?

Nonetheless, the proposal will not pass, unless support in the public for this single, guaranteed job creating act draws so much support that its passage becomes inexorable.

And, so what? Fighting for it and campaigning on it will provide us a way-out of the recession, and majorities in the elected branches to effect this one, single, simple policy. If the Republicans want to block guaranteed jobs on top of their killing Medicare vote, let them. We can either break their stranglehold prior to the elections, or enact this program after sweeping back in the House and holding the Senate and Presidency in 2012. [I would prefer we win now, and get people back to work, but that will be up to Republican paymasters.]

But let us, above all, be clear and definitive. Democrats will guarantee 4 million jobs for 4 years because the government will hire them to do the above-mentioned work. It is not a matter of tax credits, or incentives, that are designed to encourage certain outcomes but cannot guarantee them. Moreover, even if incentives do increase hiring, there is no guarantee that the new jobs will be created in America.

Guaranteeing 4 million jobs is far, far more powerful than projecting 4 million jobs as a consequence of indirect actions. Moreover, the very debate it will stir will remind people that the government is "them," a tool for needed activities that require collective action. That is, if they will only make it work for them.

This modern WPA will guarantee 4 million jobs for 4 years. {Harry Hopkins hired 4 million workers in 4 months during the Great Depression!] With the construction industry in the doldrums, there are plenty of people with skills that could be put to work retrofitting homes, and every kilowatt saved in lost energy is a recurring saving for energy we will never need to produce.

Our infrastructure is crumbling. The last several decades of "government cannot do it" attitudes have left a wonderful system of roads, pipes, bridges and rail -- much constructed by government spending during the Great Depression and in the 1950s -- in disrepair, rotting. The money spent will be saved in inevitable and predictable future disasters that do not require tornadoes to trigger -- the infrastructure is crumbling from disrepair borne out of misguided right-wing ideology. As indicated above, government built these great foundations for a national economy, they served us well; why should government not fix them?

With interest rates near zero, taxes at all-time lows, housing continuing to decline in value, it is quite possible that no other economic policy will work. There is no other proposal that can absolutely guarantee 4 million American jobs, be certain that the work done will create lasting economic value for the country, and take a major step in rebuilding a strong middle class who built this economy in the first place, and are the only source of sustained growth in the future.

And let us also be clear that this will be a federal program, so Chris Christie and Rick Scott and Rick Snyder and Scott Walker and John Kasich cannot prevent people in their states from getting jobs.

Let the Administration and Congress decide the specifics of how they will meet this criterion. Let them determine how they will raise the revenues to cover the costs: closing loopholes for corporations and wealthy individuals, a financial activities (FAT) tax, improved collection of taxes under the current tax code... whatever they wish.

That is, let us not be rigid, except on one matter: that the 4 million jobs are guaranteed American jobs, over 4 years, and they are all spent on infrastructure.

This should be a line in the sand for supporting Congressional, Senate and Presidential candidates.

It is simple, clear, direct, effective, necessary and a bright line between those who want to re-start the economy and those who do not, those who believe in an economic future and those who do not, those who recognize reality and those who are paid to lie. It will cost about the same as the TARP, but, unlike the TARP, provide some real, sustained value to the economy when the work is finished.

Do not ask for it. Demand it. You have every right to do so.