“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

— Preamble to the Constitution of the United States

As this budget crisis chugged into full gear over the weekend, I was dumbfounded by how totally out of touch the Beltway boys and girls are about nearly everything. You hear about the disconnect, but you have to see it on live television to believe it.

These “servants of the people” have forgotten — or never acknowledged — what they were elected to do.

Stephen Rhymer, a 59-year-old former public relations official from Oklahoma, has been unemployed for two and a half years. (Courtesy of Stephen Rhymer)

Their responsibilities are clearly outlined in the Preamble to the United States Constitution, one of which – the most important, in my view – is: “promote the general welfare.”

I saw plenty of members promoting some political ideology, personal agendas and the like, but I saw no one actually working to promote this country’s general welfare.

Couldn’t help but notice that the biggest problem in the United States right now wasn’t even mentioned in the “budget deal.”

Wasn’t on the table.

Wasn’t in the room.

Probably wasn’t even inside the Beltway.

What’s the biggest problem in the U.S.?

Surprise! It’s unemployment. 

Officially 9.2 percent, the real figure, after adding in those of us who have dropped off the unemployment rolls or are grossly underemployed, is likely closer to 17 percent of the population, according to the economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman.

But percentages are no real indicator of the severity of the unemployment problem.

There are, give or take, 312,000,000 people in the U.S. Let’s subtract half of that to cover children and those unable to work.

If at best 9.2 percent are unemployed, that comes to 14,352,000 people who are out of work.

However, if the figure is more in line with Krugman’s 17 percent, the real number of people out of work is about 26,520,000. That’s more than the population of Australia (22,667,626).

That’s a lot of people. People who are not part of the budget deal.

Except unemployed people like me — the ones with no income but maybe have unemployment insurance, who can no longer pay for health care insurance, who don’t qualify for food stamps, who are about to default on their mortgage or lose their rented apartment, who are without most everything they need to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” — who will pay for this budget deal.

During the lead-up to Sunday’s vote, I heard nothing that sounded like “promote the general welfare.” I did hear a lot of school playground name-calling by pols and pundits alike, all accusing the “other side” of all manner of tomfoolery, deceit, deception and, heaven forfend (it means forbid — I stole it from George Will), playing politics.

To those of us out here in chronic unemployment land, it was a colossal waste of time.

I can’t see where Congress has done a single tangible thing to create jobs (which the citizenry names as the country’s No. 1 priority) or, for that matter, create a healthy economic climate in the U.S.

Rather, their squabbling has destabilized an economy that appears to be veering toward a double-dip recession, made this country look like economic fools to the rest of the world and made our government appear incompetent. Or worse.

I have an idea. You want to get the budget under control? Let a group of the chronically unemployed take a stab at it. We’re experts at cutting fluff and waste and non-essentials while maximizing limited cash.

And while we’re taking care of the budget, Congress can focus on finding jobs for their constituents instead of protecting their own. We need a government that will work to solve the problems we face, not draw lines in the sand.  We need solutions, not sound bites.

There used to be an American dream. 

There still is.  Today however, it’s a nightmare.

Stephen Rhymer, a 59-year-old former public relations official from Edmond, Okla., has been unemployed for two and a half years. Read more about him here. Read about the “Help Wanted” project here. Visit the project home page here.