Obama jobs agenda stalled in Congress
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON – One month after President Barack Obama declared jobs his “number one focus,” Congress has been unable to push through a single measure aimed at putting people back to work, as lawmakers haggle over how best to create jobs and how much to spend in the face of soaring budget deficits.
On Friday, Obama’s jobs agenda stalled on both ends of the Capitol. In the House, leaders delayed a vote until next week on a Senate plan to extend tax breaks to employers who hire new workers after the proposal drew fire from liberals, who called it weak medicine for a 9.7 percent jobless rate, and conservatives, who griped that it would worsen a deficit projected to approach $1.6 trillion this year.
In the Senate, Jim Bunning, R-Ky., blocked a vote on a House-passed bill that would have extended emergency unemployment benefits past Sunday, arguing that lawmakers should come up with a plan to pay for it. As lawmakers left town for the weekend, more than a million people, by one estimate, were in danger of losing federal aid by the end of March.
Leaders in both chambers hope to return to the issue next week, and aides expressed confidence that a jobs bill in some form would soon be approved. But the intense squabbling over even modest initiatives cast doubt on Democrats’ ability to deliver on Obama’s request for another big dose of tax cuts and spending, which many economists say are needed to push the economic recovery into high gear.
“We have to be careful here. We need job creation … At the same time, we’re really worried about deficits and too much spending,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., recently told reporters. Of Obama’s request for another $267 billion to boost the economy, he said: “Whether we could get something as big as $270 billion through the Senate or even through the House, I just don’t know.”
The delay of two bills that lawmakers had hoped to have ready for Obama’s signature comes as Democrats brace for another round of bad jobs numbers next week. Back-to-back snowstorms that crippled Washington and other cities could dramatically reduce reported payroll employment in February.
Democrats blamed Republicans for the holdup, bashing Bunning for refusing to cut a deal that would have permitted the Senate to extend a variety of programs set to expire Sunday night.
“These are the type of games that the American people fail to understand. These are the types of instances where, for some reason, one person can throw out all measure of common sense and hurt hundreds of thousands of Americans that have, unfortunately, lost their jobs as a result of this economic downturn,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Bunning spokesman Mike Reynard said the senator believes the bill’s provisions are important, but that the Senate should not abandon its commitment to pay-as-you-go principles weeks after adopting them. He said Bunning offered several alternatives, including using unspent funds from last year’s $862 billion economic stimulus package, to cover the cost of the jobs package, but could not reach agreement with Democratic leaders.
“Senator Bunning supports this bill. He believes it is essential that it should pass. But the bill must be paid for,” Reynard said. “If we can’t find $10 billion to pay for something that all 100 senators support, we will never pay for anything.”
Congressional Democrats have been quarreling over what form a jobs bill should take. Last year, the House approved a $154 billion package that included new spending on infrastructure and other government programs. But Senate Democrats are reluctant to approve another big spending package, and have instead announced their intention to pursue smaller measures that can win Republican support.
The centerpiece of the bill now pending before the House, a $13 billion payroll tax credit aimed at employers who hire people who have been out of work for at least 60 days, passed the Senate last week with five GOP votes. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. plans to bring up a much larger package next week that contains $80 billion to extend emergency unemployment benefits for one year and $25 billion to aid strapped state governments. But the measure would also devote $31 billion to revive expired tax breaks supported by Republicans, and it would finance no new job-creation measures.
Many Democrats in the House, meanwhile, are pressing for a more straightforward public jobs program. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. said he’s working on a proposal to help as many as 140,000 laid-off municipal workers. And members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who balked at approving the Senate jobs bill, are pressing for more money for job training and summer jobs programs, particularly in areas with the highest unemployment rates.
Staff writer Ben Pershing contributed to this report.