When I interviewed Congresswoman Barbara Lee about health care last week, we also talked about the jobs bill the House voted on that same day. The bill gives a tax break to companies that hire the jobless, and extends highway and mass transit construction programs through the end of the year. Although it passed, it was a tight 212-209 vote--with Lee and 21 other Congressional Black Caucus members voting against it.
"It's not a jobs a bill," she said angrily. "It's a tax credit bill, which is fine. We don't oppose tax credits for businesses, but we have to have a comprehensive job creation effort if we're going to begin to reduce unemployment rates in the African-American and Latino communities, which are the most chronically unemployed."
Missing from the so-called jobs bill are provisions that the CBC has been calling for since last November--local funding for job training, and public jobs initiatives that target areas with disproportionately high rates of poverty and joblessness. The CBC had multiple meetings with Senate leadership about this, and yet their ideas didn't make the bill.
Speaking on Wednesday at the Senate Democratic Progressive Media Summit, Majority Leader Harry Reid explained that the Senate is adopting a slower, piece-by-piece strategy. He compared passing jobs legislation to his high school baseball team winning a championship series (stay with me; the analogy does make sense). "We didn't do it by hitting a lot of home runs; we did it by winning a lot of singles," he said.
New York Senator Charles Schumer pointed out that last week's jobs bill was one of the few to pass the Senate lately without a Republican filibuster. "If you do one big bill with everything in it, then you have one part of it that gets attacked," he said, explaining that when one part gets held up, the whole measure gets held up. "This is not just a jobs bill, but a jobs agenda."
Schumer said that Senate Democrats will introduce new jobs programs every couple of weeks, and he was confident that they will pass. In the middle of the media summit, in fact, the senators took a break to vote on a bill to extend unemployment benefits for a year. This measure passed, with a 62-36 vote. Now it goes to the House.
No word, however, on whether any of these smaller bills will include the CBC provisions to target job creation and training in the most economically depressed communities. Either way, Representative Barbara Lee is unimpressed with the Senate strategy. In a statement last month she wrote, "A 'go slow,' piecemeal approach will do little to address our nation's need for employment."
What do you think--do Senate Dems have the right idea with their "piecemeal approach" to jobs legislation? Or is the strategy too weak for tackling such a critical issue?
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