by Arianna Huffington

It's now a monthly ritual: Jobs numbers for the previous month come out, they're labeled "disappointing," and there's a lot of hemming and hawing and throat clearing and pronouncements about how "something really must be done," and about how vitally important it is to "get America back to work."

This time was no different: The latest numbers showed that the economy added only 80,000 jobs in October, while the unemployment rate took a barely perceptible dip from 9.1 percent to 9 percent.

But don't blame John Boehner - in a TV appearance last week, he handed the host a laminated flier listing all the "jobs" legislation he'd tried to get enacted. It's the latest manifestation of the D.C. dictum that when it comes to leadership and reform, "the important thing is just to be caught trying." And Boehner wasn't leaving anything to chance - he even laminated his efforts!

President Obama doesn't have a flier (yet!) but he does have photo ops. In September, he stood in front of a crumbling bridge to make the case for his jobs bill, and then stood in front of another one -- just before Senate Republicans blocked a $60 billion plan for patching up America's failing infrastructure. The problem isn't the bills; they're obviously much needed. It's that the president gave these photo-op speeches in late 2011 -- those bridges, and thousands like them, have been crumbling for years -- so he, too, can be caught trying as the campaign season heats up.

You can feel the resignation settling into the establishment -- a sense of inevitability about an unending horizon of 8 percent or 9 percent unemployment. A sense that this -- and the fact that more than 6 million people have now been unemployed for more than six months -- is a natural condition like the weather, something that just happens to us and which we can't do anything about.

But, in reality, this level of unemployment isn't just happening. Decisions are being made on a regular basis -- in some cases to do things, in other cases not to -- that are prolonging the economic crisis. And there are plenty of steps we can take that go way beyond being caught trying and laminating fliers -- steps that actually enjoy support from both sides of the political spectrum and that would produce tangible positive results in the day-to-day lives of millions of people. The problem is that we have a broken system in which even good, sensible ideas never make it to market. They get proposed, they get support in policy circles, they even get introduced in Congress. And then . . . they die.

A perfect example of a sensible, widely praised idea that has nevertheless gone nowhere is Right-to-Rent.

Under the plan, after a home is foreclosed on, the homeowners would be given the option to stay in the house and pay a fair market rent determined by an independent appraiser. Aside from keeping families from being forced out of their homes, it would also stop the myriad array of problems that follow every foreclosed house -- including the fact that foreclosures drive down the value of surrounding homes.

"The own-to-rent plan is a simple and low cost way to help moderate income homebuyers," wrote Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, who introduced the idea. "It doesn't require any tax dollars and does not set up a new government bureaucracy to manage the housing market." Andrew Samwick, an economics professor at Dartmouth and the former chief economist on George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, endorsed the bill. "If the government is going to intervene in the aftermath of this meltdown, I haven't seen a better proposal than this one."

It's been supported by the National Review, The New York Times, and Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the IMF and a professor at MIT. Felix Salmon has been one of the idea's biggest champions. "This plan might not single-handedly end the recession," he wrote in 2009, "But it would certainly help."

In April this year, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., who first introduced the bill in 2008, re-reintroduced it, saying: "Housing shouldn't be a politically charged issue -- this is a basic question of fixing a problem we can't ignore. Democrat, Republican or independent, we're all here in Congress to represent our constituents and make sure the federal government is acting in their best interests. Right now, we can't afford to pretend those interests are served by us doing nothing." Doing nothing while pretending to serve the people's interest -- in other words, trying to be caught trying.

In the meantime, the idea was implemented -- in Ireland. A pilot program there will allow 10,000 people to take part. That might sound small, but, as Dean Baker pointed out, that would be equivalent to 700,000 homeowners here.

It would be great to see the idea implemented on a national scale here -- and quickly -- because it's clear that the foreclosure crisis and the misery it brings won't be ending any time soon. In a column on the housing crisis, the New York Times' Joe Nocera wrote that as many as 10 million of the 55 million outstanding mortgages in the U.S. are likely going to default. Those are devastating numbers.

We know it's going to happen. We know the problems that will result. And we know of a very reasonable idea that would help mitigate those problems.

So the question is: will our leaders take the wheel and turn it before we hit the iceberg?


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An Idea Dysfunctional Washington More Than Happy to Let Die | Politics

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