Why Not Write a Jobs Bill That Would Create Jobs?
That’s the question being asked around the country today in response to the $85 billion proposal presented Thursday by Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the leaders of the Finance Committee. Although immediately rejected by Democratic leadership, the draft bill provides a sense of what conservatives are willing to accept if the package is to be bipartisan (which it must be in order to win the 60 votes that are the new norm for passing bills in the Senate.) Trouble is, as The New York Times points out today, “about half of the proposal had nothing to do with new jobs.”
The single largest chunk, about $31 billion, went to renew expiring tax breaks that are generally useful but unrelated to jobs. Another $10 billion would renew an expiring Medicare payment formula so doctors wouldn’t face a pay cut.
Politically, those things make sense. No one wants to take the blame for a tax hike in an election year, and they certainly don’t want to be seen sitting idle while doctors suffer a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments. But those things will get done anyway. The question remains: why stick them in a bill that’s supposed to create jobs? What effect could they have on the nation’s grave unemployment situation except to crowd out real job-creating measures?
Robert Greenstein, executive director of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, issued a statement yesterday warning what could happen if Congress doesn’t step in with more targeted, bang-for-your buck spending. He’s particularly worried that there’s not nearly enough money directed to help states survive their worst budget troubles in recent history. “If Congress does not act — and act quickly — to provide more fiscal relief, states will have to take steps to close their budget gaps that could cost the economy up to 900,000 jobs,” Greenstein said.
They will likely cut education, leading to teacher lay-offs; cut Medicaid, throwing more working-class people into the ranks of the uninsured, and cut aid to local governments, leading to cutbacks in local services like police and fire protection. All of these actions will mean less money for families and small businesses to spend in their communities, further depressing economic growth.
The good news is that Senate lawmakers will have some time to rework the bill. The recent snowstorm that slammed Washington left Democratic leaders with no choice but to postpone any votes on the legislation this week. And next week lawmakers are out of town for Presidents Day recess, meaning the first votes on the bill won’t take place anytime before Feb. 22.