An increasing number of Democrats in the House and Senate are calling on Washington to address the immediate jobs crisis at a time when much of the Beltway is gripped by austerity fever.
Representative John Larson, the number four Democrat in the House of Representatives, has called for the creation of a Joint Select Committee on Job Creation, modeled after the newly created debt-focused “super committee.”
“High unemployment poses a very real short-term fiscal crisis, because it drains the federal coffers through increased government spending and reduced tax revenues,” Larson wrote in a letter to his colleagues on August 8. “This [jobs committee] would allow the Congress to simultaneously consider both our near-term (high unemployment) and our long-term (growing debt) challenges later this year.”
The jobs super committee would be set up exactly like the deficit committee, with the same time-frame for recommendations and the requirement that its proposals be given an up or down majority vote not subject to a filibuster. The legislation is being finalized now, a Larson aide told me, and will likely be introduced next week.
No Senate Democrat has yet echoed Larson’s exact proposal but 23 Senate Democrats recently asked the debt super committee to prioritize job creation alongside its debt focus. “For families across the country, the biggest economic problem is high unemployment,” they wrote. “Our fiscal challenge is directly linked to the jobs crisis and we cannot solve the former without tackling the latter.”
None of the three Senate Democrats (Baucus, Kerry and Murray) on the debt super committee signed the letter but two members of the “Gang of Six” (Dick Durbin and Mark Warner) did, indicating that even the most vociferous austerity hawks within the Democratic caucus now realize the unemployment crisis must be a top priority for the Congress. Better late than never, I suppose.
In his speech on Monday, Obama mentioned a few ideas for boosting the economy: extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance benefits when they expire this year and creating an “infrastructure bank” to spur new construction jobs. That’s a start, but many economists believe the president needs to go further to jumpstart the stalled recovery. There’s already some good ideas out there that the president could draw on.
Representative Jan Schakowsky, a member of the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission, has announced a plan to create 2.2 million “emergency jobs,” financed through higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans.
Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich has been pushing for a number of significant job-creation measures for months. They include:
Eliminate payroll taxes on the first $20,000 of income for two years. Recreate the WPA and the Civilian Conservation Corps. The federal government should lend money to cash-strapped states and local governments. Give employers tax credits for net new jobs. Amend the bankruptcy laws to allow distressed homeowners to declare bankruptcy on their primary residence. Extend unemployment insurance. Provide partial unemployment benefits to people who have lost part-time jobs. Start an infrastructure bank.
Last night on the “NewsHour,” former Obama economic adviser Christina Romer advocated a major tax cut for companies that hire new workers.
These are all ideas Obama could draw on. The creation of a jobs super committee could help get some of these measures through Congress. And if Obama can’t pass a jobs plan through Congress now, he can still build public support for it and draw a sharp and favorable contrast between his job-creation ideas and the job-killing austerity agenda of the GOP. If he fails to do so, the president and his party are just as culpable as the GOP for prolonging the current economic morass. As Reich puts it, “the magnitude of the current jobs and growth crisis demands a boldness and urgency that's utterly lacking.”
—Ari Berman is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics. Follow him on Twitter at @AriBerman.