POLITICS
06/01/2012 05:12 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2012

Obama, Romney Campaigns Have Similar Proposals For Long-Term Jobless

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney wants to create an incentive for businesses to hire the long-term unemployed, based on a program he launched as governor of Massachusetts in 2004.

"If you hire someone who's been out of work a year or more, we're gonna give you, the employer, I think it was a $2,000 check to be able to train this person in the job you've hired them for," Romney told CBSNews on Thursday.

Hey, the Obama campaign said, that's our guy's idea! In the fall, President Barack Obama proposed a $4,000 tax credit for businesses that hire the long-term unemployed. "It's a good thing Mitt Romney finally came around to endorsing part of the President's approach for getting more Americans back to work -- now he should call on Congress to pass it," Obama for America's James Kvaal said in a statement.

But Congress already did pass it, or at least something similar to it. The 2010 HIRE Act offered a payroll tax break and a $1,000 credit to businesses that hired and retained unemployed workers.

Sadly for the 5.4 million Americans who've been out of work six months or longer as of May, the HIRE Act didn't yield impressive results. The Treasury Department reported that from February to October of 2010, businesses hired more than 10 million unemployed people who could have made them eligible for the law's incentives. But there's no telling how many of those hires were actually caused by the incentives, and economists took a dim view of the program. Economists and worker advocates have suspected employers would collect incentives for hires they would have made anyway.

There are differences between the HIRE Act and the more recent proposals from Romney and Obama. The president's latest idea offers a bigger tax credit for hiring people who've been out of work for longer -- at least six months. It's part of a package of reforms Obama has pushed for workplace training programs and the unemployment insurance system.

Instead of a tax credit, Romney's program, still operating in Massachusetts, gives $2,000 training grants to businesses that hire the long-term jobless. In addition to hiring incentives, Romney told CBS on Thursday that he supported giving people laid off through no fault of their own "personal accounts" from which to draw benefits -- a much more radical proposal than anything he pursued while governor, when he reluctantly supported a "huge increase" in business taxes to pay for unemployment insurance.

The Romney campaign stressed the differences between the proposals in a statement to HuffPost.

"Governor Romney is proposing an innovative approach to worker retraining that would give workers more control and embrace private sector participation," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in an email. "This differs markedly from President Obama's approach of doubling down on a tangled web of ineffective federal programs and already-attempted stimulus measures. The President is out of ideas and, with economic growth stalling, job creation sputtering, and consumer confidence plunging, he is also out of excuses."

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