Working In These Times
As Congress Leaves Jobless in Lurch, Will Grassroots Push for Strong Jobs Bills?
By Art Levine
Even as Senators skipped town before a two-week break without extending unemployment insurance and COBRA health subsidies, hopes are rising among congressional liberals and unions that stronger job creation measures could win the backing of emboldened Democratic leaders and President Obama. (Some state-based officials also expect state agencies to tide over workers at risk of losing their benefits before the Senate takes action in mid-April, while advocates for the unemployed are far more alarmed.)
Progressive Caucus member Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., has an Easter recess assignment for activists: Get 216 cosponsors for the Local Jobs for America bill, perhaps the most important action Congress can take this year to help lower the unemployment rate and jump-start the economy.
The legislation, HR 4812, already has 92 cosponsors in the House, and Ellison, working with the bill's sponsor, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., is working to build momentum for the legislation in the coming weeks. The bill would authorize $75 billion, which would be distributed through state and local governments to create or save from 750,000 to 1 million jobs over two years.
Ellison said if supporters succeed in getting 216 cosponsors, "that makes it pretty much a slam-dunk to pass the bill," he said.
This week, Ellison and Miller met with members of the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties and members of the Jobs for America Now coalition. In addition to cosponsor support, the coalition is working on getting endorsements for the legislation from mayors and other elected officials from both parties. That bipartisan grassroots support may prove particularly important in the Senate, where conservatives have been working to block previous jobs measures on the grounds that they are not "paid for."
Buoyed by their healthcare win, Democrats and the president, who showed a new willingness to buck Republicans by making 15 recess appointments, including a pro-union attorney to the National Labor Relations Board, are signalling a confident new willingness to push ahead on their agenda without Republican support.
But it's not at all clear these measure can get through a Senate reluctant to support any further "deficit spending" to create jobs.
$75 billion for 750,000 jobs providing needed local services
$52.5 billion directly to communities with at least 50,000 residents - Mayors, County Officials and Governors would submit a statement to the need for the specific positions to the Department of Labor. The department would then distribute funding to communities based on the Community Development Block Grant formula.
Half of the funding will go to positions that would be eliminated due to ongoing budget shortfalls. Up to 25 percent of the funding can go to non-profit community organizations that provide services not customarily provided by local government employees. The remaining 25 percent may be used for creation of new jobs in local government.
$22.5 billion directly to governors to distribute to communities with fewer than 50,000 residents - Job creation funding will sent to towns, counties, or private non-profits outside of those communities eligible for the funding above. Local governments will apply to the governor for the funding.
Like support to larger communities, half of the funding may be spent on retention of positions slated for elimination, up to 25 percent of the funding can go to non-profit community organizations that provide services not customarily provided by local government employees. The remaining 25 percent may be used for creation of new jobs in local government. The governor must fairly distribute the funding among congressional districts, in proportion to each district's rural population.
Funds may only be used for compensation of full-time, full-year positions. "Full-year" defined to include school year positions. Local governments may expand existing services or restore services cut in the past five years. Positions are federally funded for two years.
Jobs are regular government or local community organization jobs....
As the Associated Press observed:
Losers in a brutal struggle with President Barack Obama, Republicans now hope voter anger over newly enacted health care legislation will propel them to victory in midterm elections this fall.
Forget about it.
No matter the impact of health care, the economy still matters most -- unemployment in particular -- in a country struggling to emerge from the deepest recession in decades.
In poll after poll, it isn't even close.
A CBS/New York Times poll taken last month, when the health care debate was in a lull, showed 52 percent of those surveyed identified the economy as their top priority. Health care was a distant second at 13 percent...
"There is still one number that matters most on Election Day, and that is the unemployment number," said David Winston, a Republican pollster. "If unemployment is where it is now (9.7 percent nationally), people are going to be very unhappy and looking for a change.
But it isn't finger-pointing over who is to blame over unemployment that will decide the election—but real results. Can Congress and the White House be prodded into taking the strong measures that are really needed to create jobs and bring down unemployment? What unions and liberals do over the next few weeks could decide the answer.