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Real Jobs Crisis, Fringe Ideas

Ben Peck

Do Republicans in Congress care about creating jobs -- which polls say is the number one issue for voters -- or about ideological purity? The ongoing debate on Capitol Hill over President Obama’s $447 billion jobs package offers a crystal clear answer to that question.

Just look at what is happening in the Senate, where Democrats have been trying to move the package -- which would create 2 million jobs -- since early October. Despite a Democratic majority -- and despite the raft of conservative proposals within the jobs package -- Republicans effectively filibustered the legislation. Since then, in the face of continued Republican opposition, Senate Democrats have been attempting to pass the President’s proposal in pieces. 

The gridlock is fueled by militant adherence of Senate Republicans to their small government ideology, and it reached a new height of absurdity yesterday. While much attention has been paid to how the Senate passed legislation that helps veterans, also included in the bill was a provision that will make it easier for private government contractors to cheat on their taxes (by repealing withholding of those taxes). In other words, the GOP price for aiding veterans was to help corporations evade a basic civic responsibility.

Even that capitulation was not good enough for Republican legislators, who sought to amend the bill by offering S. 1720, the Jobs Through Growth Act. This proposal included provisions to lower taxes on corporations even further (at a time when they’re contributing a record low) and stop our government from ensuring that our air is safe to breathe, our water is safe to drink and our economy is safe from the financial industry’s recklessness that is responsible for the economy’s current condition. 

The claim that corporations need additional tax breaks and freedom from “costly” regulations to begin hiring flies in the face of the facts. Non-financial corporations are sitting on a record sum of cash, nearly $2 trillion, that they have not invested largely because they are uncertain that consumers have the income to buy what they would produce. 

It gets worse. S. 1720 included the radical Rules from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which would require that all the steps government would take to implement a law be brought up for a vote in the House and Senate before they go into effect. This would allow ultraconservatives in the House to block all the laws that were passed when Democrats controlled that chamber from ever coming into effect. That includes the health care bill which will offer health insurance to millions of Americans, the tobacco law, which is aimed at reducing the tragic toll that smoking related disease takes on our nation, and the desperately needed rules of the road for big Wall Street banks contained in Dodd-Frank.

Other proposals in S. 1720 -- the Regulation Moratorium and Jobs Preservation Act , the FREEDOM Act , and the Unfunded Mandates Accountability Act -- would delay needed protections from being enforced by requiring government agencies to conduct endless analyses of the impact of proposed rules, and elevating crude economic calculations above the value of clean air, clean water and human life. 

America is facing the worst jobs crisis since the 1930s, with legions of long-term unemployed getting more desperate by the day. And the GOP response is to offer up a grab bag of fringe experiments in extreme de-regulation.

Bruce Bartlett, a senior policy adviser to President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush, summed up the Republican proposals this way in an article in which he was quoted in the New York Times, “In my opinion, regulatory uncertainty is a canard invented by Republicans that allows them to use current economic problems to pursue an agenda supported by the business community year in and year out. In other words, it is a simple case of political opportunism, not a serious effort to deal with high unemployment."

Bartlett couldn't be more right.

The events yesterday in the Senate illustrate a sad fact of life in today’s Washington: The only proposals that appear to be viable are ones that concede to the Republican small government orthodoxy.  Even though our nation is struggling with staggering levels of joblessness, Congress appears determined to sit on the sidelines.