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Rarely has the metaphor been more apt: Washington is fiddling while America burns. Congress and the Trump administration are barely negotiating anymore while unemployment remains at levels rarely seen since the Great Depression. Do not be fooled by the stock market’s vitality (which reflects the strength of a handful of stocks that now dominate the indexes): The conditions for tens of millions of Americans are bleak, with few jobs, low incomes and a soaring number of business failures. And despite these emergency conditions — worse than during the crisis of 2008 — Washington simply cannot get its act together.
Political polarization has a lot to do with the breakdown in talks. Democrats and Republicans both gain more from their supporters by standing up to the opposing party than by compromising with it. That makes it very difficult to pass large complicated bills. And Democrats, clearly believing that they have the upper hand, are demanding that Republicans make larger compromises.
But at the heart of the problem is a substantive disagreement. Large numbers of Republicans believe the federal government should not be spending this much money, that the debt burden is rising to unconscionable levels and that the United States is risking its future financial health. Every one of these concerns is either wrong or largely exaggerated.