by Annie Shields, Media Consortium blogger
It looks as if election-year strategies are trumping any actual problem-solving by Republican lawmakers. In the midst of one of the worst unemployment crises in U.S. history, Senate Republicans killed a jobs bill last Thursday by a 56-40 vote.
As congress carries on with the seemingly impossible task of helping the unemployed while keeping Republicans happy, over 15,000 progressives and 1,300 organizations will convene in Detroit this week for the U. S. Social Forum (USSF) to explore alternative solutions to the jobs crisis. Editor's note: Stay tuned for USSF coverage from Media Consortium members throughout the week in The Audit, The Pulse, The Diaspora and The Mulch.
Democrats trimmed over $20 billion in unemployment benefit extensions from the bill to appeal to Senate Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats. The efforts were to no avail, according to The Michigan Messenger. In addition to extending emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, the Senate bill would have increased Medicaid funding and prevented a 21% pay cut for Medicare doctors.
The defeat came less than a week after President Barack Obama issued a plea to Congress to pass a jobs bill, citing the nearly double-digit national unemployment rate and the slow rate of recovery.
Despite the urgent need for federal assistance to mitigate our sky-high unemployment rate, Republicans have maintained their opposition to any new spending. As The Iowa Independent reports, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has dismissed the need for emergency aid, instead bashing the Democrats for what he called "fiscal recklessness, plain and simple."
McConnell went on to say that "even in the face of public outrage, Democrats are showing either that they just don't get it on this issue of the debt, or that they just don't care."
Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly reveals several inconsistencies in the Senate Minority Leader's rhetoric. For example, McConnell opposed the President's proposed jobs bill, because it would have increased the federal deficit. And yet, McConnell had this to say about the problems plaguing the nation:
"Right now, among other challenges, we have a debt crisis, a jobs crisis, a housing crisis, a financial crisis, and an oil spill that the American people clearly don't believe government is effectively responding to."
First, McConnell promises to obstruct the passage of a jobs bill because dealing with the jobs crisis will increase the deficit; then he bemoans the government's failure to deal with the unemployment crisis, among other things. It seems that McConnell abandons conservative talking points when they're not politically expedient, but maintains conservative inaction and obstruction when it means standing firm against new spending.
The cost of inaction
Populist rhetoric from Conservatives who blocked the bill is cold comfort to the 15 million Americans who are currently unemployed. The news of the Senate's vote to kill the jobs bill is perhaps most discouraging to the thousands of "99ers", those who have been without work long enough for their unemployment benefits to expire. Long-term unemployment is hitting older workers especially hard.
As The Minnesota Independent reports, the unemployment rate for people aged 55 and older is higher than it's been since 1948. And there's evidence that age discrimination is exacerbating the jobs crisis for these older workers.
Another world is possible in the Motor City
Any economic stimulus would likely be welcome in Michigan, where over ten thousand activists are convening this week for the second USSF in Detroit. Michigan has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation--a staggering 13.6%, and unemployment and the economy will be high on the agenda at the 2010 USSF.
Detroit has been one of the hardest hit cities in the nation during the economic downturn, with U.S. carmakers and members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union bearing the brunt. Richard Feldman, a UAW member, is among those participating in the social forum. He talked to Inter Press Service about the challenges that face union automakers:
"I don't think it is about losing to Asia but recognising we need to create new concepts of transportation that respect the limits of planetary resources and where workers and communities are respected and given a voice at the table."
According to Truthout's Paul Abowd, while USSF attendees plan to address nearly every progressive cause under the sun, "Forum-goers are also focused on the host city at a time when the event's tagline - 'Another Detroit is Happening' - is both promising and foreboding."
Detroit's new mayor, Democrat David Bing and his "crisis turnaround team" have wasted no time getting started on their plans to revitalize the city. As Abowd reports:
"The new mayor is promising to shrink Detroit and its infrastructure, and has gathered the business community and suburban philanthropies to put down-payments on a Detroit dreamscape: a downtown light rail line, a new hockey stadium, shiny charter schools to complement a slimmed down "traditional" district, an industrial farm on the East side, and new housing enclaves."
Many of those involved in the USSF have high hopes for the the Forum's potential to help jump start the city's revival. As Lottie Spady, a food justice organizer working on the Forum puts it:
"I think we need to use the Social Forum as an opportunity to say to city officials, look - you're dealing with a population that can mobilize 20,000 people to come to Detroit...Outside of a sporting event, when does that happen?"
Yes! Magazine's Sarah van Gelder also elaborates on how the USSF could becoming a source of hope for Detroit.
An outgrowth of the World Social Forum, the USSF will feature workshops covering a wide variety of social justice and environmental issues. Over 15,000 progressives and 1,300 organizations are expected to participate.
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