As the presidential debates begin, the focus shouldn't be on who is going to "win," but on whether we are finally going to get a serious debate on jobs and the economy. If not, then the real loser is going to be the American public. But I don't expect much, especially given reports that, according to the New York Times' Ashley Parker, Romney's team believes that "debates are about creating moments" and thus "equipped him with a series of zingers that he has memorized." Now, a well-placed debate zinger certainly has its place -- but how much more of a "moment" would be created if either candidate instead unleashed a series of proposals to put the 20 million Americans who are unemployed or underemployed back to work? Or, better yet, plans on how to actually pass the many legislative proposals that are currently as stagnant as the employment numbers the bills are meant to improve?
Yes, this is a time of extreme polarization and partisan gridlock -- but that should be no excuse. Indeed, not only are there plenty of proposals pending in Congress that would help invigorate the economy and put Americans back to work, many of them are based on broadly shared and non-controversial principles that are, ostensibly at least, supported by both parties.
For instance, just a few weeks ago, a bill that would have made it easier for foreigners who graduated from American universities with degrees in the so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) to get permanent work visas -- and thus be more likely to put down their future-job-creating roots in the United States -- failed in the House. This is not good for job creation, especially when you consider that over the last 15 years, almost a quarter of venture-backed startups were launched by immigrants. The sticking point was that the bill, sponsored by Republican Lamar Smith of Texas, would have gotten rid of the yearly lottery that gives out 55,000 permanent visas. Many Democrats opposed the bill because they wanted to keep the lottery, which brings in immigrants from many countries in Africa and Asia, and instead supported a proposal by their party's Zoe Lofgren of California that would keep the lottery and provide for 50,000 new permanent visas for STEM grads.
Meanwhile, over in the Senate, a similar bill is pending -- the SMART Job Act -- sponsored by Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander and Delaware Democrat Chris Coons. The bill would allow foreigners getting advanced STEM degrees to live in the country for a year after they graduate while they look for a job. If they find one, they'd be eligible for a "STEM green card."
"Many of the best and brightest young minds in the world are educated at American universities, and instead of sending them home after graduation, we should be encouraging them to stay in the U.S. to pursue their innovations and create jobs here," Coons said. "When we send off these graduates to pursue their innovations in India and China, we are literally subsidizing our competitors."
And yet the bill is languishing, even while these very same job-creating STEM graduates are being forced to leave the country and launch their startups elsewhere.
In fact, the pipeline is full of legislative proposals that would do what Congress should be doing: help put Americans back to work. Many of these bills would do this while also solving another problem: rebuilding America's crumbling infrastructure. This would seem to be a win-win. Only in Washington can a win-win end up losing.
Will any of this come up in the debates? Not likely. Instead, we'll get prepackaged zingers -- followed by several days of zinger analysis from the media, and declarations of who "won." But time is running out to have a serious debate about the serious jobs crisis we're in. If that doesn't happen, then the loser of all three of these debates will be the American people. Debates might be about creating moments, but the election should be about how we can help create jobs.
Arianna Huffington is president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.(c) 2012 Arianna Huffington. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.