07/02/2010 10:07 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Jobs Should Come First

Members of Congress who flat-out refuse to vote to create jobs, stop layoffs and help the jobless should be ashamed of themselves. As we saw in the job numbers released today, this economy has a long way to go before it is creating jobs on the scale that is needed.

Could Senate Republicans deliver a harsher slap in the face to America's working families than heading out for a long holiday recess after repeatedly blocking unemployment aid for hard-working people who've had their jobs taken away?

Already in this recession, more than half of Americans have lost their jobs, had their pay or hours cut or had to take temporary jobs because full-time work wasn't available, according to the Pew Research Center. If the Republicans had set out intentionally to sink our economy into a double-dip recession, they couldn't be doing a better job.

Face it: The private sector's job-creating machine is dead in the water. The private sector created only 83,000 jobs last month. That's better than losing 700,000 jobs a month, as we were when Bush left office, but it's not enough to put America back to work. And unless Americans are earning paychecks and spending to pump fuel into our economy, there's not going to be a continued recovery.

But every effort to dig us out of our 10.5 million jobs hole is being stymied by budget hysteria. And it is hysteria. I'm not saying the federal budget doesn't need attention--it does, but over the long term. Right now we have an immediate jobs crisis. And unless we address it now, we'll only make the nation's economic conditions worse.

Respected economists around the world know it is dangerous to ease up on government jobs spending at this juncture. It's penny-wise and pound-foolish, as National Economic Council Director Larry Summers says, to abandon job creation investments now, when the relentless jobs crisis threatens to reverse our fledgling recovery. Our states are collapsing--but legislation to avert hundreds of thousands of layoffs and keep teachers and cops and firefighters on the job has been blocked by Republicans. Every week, 200,000 workers who have been without jobs for six months or longer are losing survival aid in the form of unemployment benefits, but time after time Republicans have blocked extended help for them. We could pay for unemployment benefits and aid to states in part by taxing hedge fund managers--some of the richest people in the country--at the same rates the rest of us pay. But Republicans blocked that too.

Some Democrats have turned their backs on working families, too. But the blockade against progress has been maintained by a solid wall of Republicans voting in lockstep, playing politics with people's lives.

In a treacherous economy, our leaders should share the goal of creating sustainable, broadly shared prosperity. Instead, it seems congressional Republicans are determined to create a desperate workforce, willing to take any jobs at any pay rate under any circumstances. It's a dream come true for corporations that have pushed for 30 years to turn America's middle class into a demoralized, low-wage and submissive workforce.

How any member of Congress can head home for this July 4th recess and talk about the November election without having voted for jobs and extended unemployment aid is beyond me.

Around the country, union members and other activists are letting their representatives know how outraged the American people are. In 20 states, we're rallying outside the local offices of anti-worker, pro-recession members of Congress.

As I testified before the presidential fiscal responsibility and reform commission this week, we need a job-centered approach to stabilizing the national debt and strengthening the economy. To a great extent, the size of the deficit depends on employment and growth. When employment and growth are weak, tax revenues are low and social assistance expenditures are high. When employment and growth are strong, the reverse is true.

That means providing the economic stimulus needed to erase our jobs deficit and prevent deeper recession. It means investing in the 21st century infrastructure necessary to support stronger economic growth in the long term. And it means insisting that Wall Street and the small minority of Americans who benefited most from the economic policies of the past 30 years pay their fair share for rebuilding the new economy.

It also means avoiding the austerity measures some are calling for that increase economic inequality and precipitate further economic crises. And Social Security? Social Security has its own funding source and in no way is responsible for our long-term debt. Butchering Social Security--as House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) proposes--would devastate seniors and near-retirees and cause poverty rates among older Americans to soar.

The lives of half of Americans have been stricken by our jobs crisis. We're teetering on the brink of a historic national and global depression. And congressional Republicans are pushing us closer and closer to the edge.