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Judy’s Notebook: Amid the Noise, A Voice From the Center

With Washington in the grips of election fever and late-breaking news about the killing of the U.S. Ambassador in Libya, the mayor of another city slipped into town to plead for common sense solutions to the economic challenges facing the country.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a packed audience that a “political crisis – caused by Washington paralysis – is standing in the way of a full recovery.” Charging that both parties “have let us down,” he said they “have focused on generating headlines in the media, rather than generating headcount in the workplace.” Further, he said both Republicans and Democrats “have tried to divide America into small single-issue constituencies – pitting one against the other – rather than getting us to work together for all citizens.”

Addressing the Economic Club of Washington, Mayor Bloomberg split the nation’s economic challenges into short and longer-term. In the near-term, he said Washington must deal with “the uncertainty that is paralyzing businesses and hindering investment in both plant and people.” To do that, he called on leaders to “adopt a credible plan to deal with our deficit, along the lines of Simpson-Bowles.” Getting specific, he recommended Democrats (who he said “hold all the cards”) embrace ending ALL the Bush-era tax cuts when they expire at the end of the year, in return for spending cuts and broad tax reform. Second, he said Washington must speed up implementing new health care and financial regulations.

In the longer term, the Big Apple chief executive cited a structural economic crisis that “is much more dangerous to our future,” and which is “largely being ignored in Washington.” He described “the squeezing of the American middle class” as a problem that began well before the Great Recession, but which is now the most urgent priority for the United States. Using his own experiences in New York City as inspiration, Mayor Bloomberg advocated four specific steps: clearing the way for business growth (and he stressed this doesn’t mean lower taxes, which he characterized as a low priority for entrepreneurs); creating the necessary infrastructure – like state-of-the-art seaports and high speed rail; opening new markets for investment; and reforming education to produce a high-skilled labor force.

Ticking off example after example of how this formula has worked for his city, the mayor connected it to the re-generation of more than 200 percent of the jobs New York lost in the financial collapse, compared to the 40 percent gained back across the entire country. He was careful to ascribe responsibility to both political parties. But he ended his speech by quoting former President Clinton at the Democratic convention in Charlotte last week: “The old economy is not coming back and we’ve got to build a new one – and educate people to do those jobs,” and saying it’s up “to the next president – whoever it is – to take up that challenge….”

It will be interesting to see whether President Obama or Gov. Romney address any of these issues between now and Nov. 6.

Full disclosure: I anchor a monthly interview program for Bloomberg Television.

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