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Previewing the Obama Jobs Plan

September 7, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Various news outlets are out this morning with a top-line number for the stimulus measure that Obama will be proposing before a jointy session of Congress tomorrow night -- $300 billion. According to the reports, most of that money would be used for extending current measures that are scheduled to expire soon. Just $100 billion or so would be spent on new stimulus measures, which is clearly not enough of an investment to create the levl of demand for goods and services that's needed to get businesses hiring. Let's take a look at the specifics.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

September 6, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Can Washington do anything to help create jobs? The August recess is finally over and it's time for Congress to take up their promised "pivot to jobs." If there is a will in Washington to put aside the partisanship and pass legislation to get the hiring cycle churning again, they'll make some progress this work period. But don't hold your breath -- despite the terrible August jobs numbers, all signs still point to gridlock.

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Keeping Up With Zero

September 2, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The August jobs report is out -- the first since the debt deal passed and the S&P downgraded the U.S. credit rating -- and the key number to the whole thing is zero. Zero jobs were created in August. The private sector produced a measly 17,000 jobs, but those gains were entirely erased by the 17,000 jobs that were lost in the public sector due to state and local government budget cuts. Hours worked were down, wages were down, and the unemployment rate for blacks jumped by nearly a full percentage point to 16.7% nationally. There's basically nothing good in the report to point to.

When Congress comes back next week, the focus is going to be on competing jobs bills from the Republican House and the Obama Administration. Unfortunately, it looks like none of them are going to pass. Both sides have decided that their best move is to try to use the gridlock to their advantage politically. They're not willing to do for the jobless what they did for the banks with TARP -- throw the political concerns aside and do what it takes to save them. But it's not just jobs bills that Congress will be fighting over when they come back. They also have some important authorization bills up for renewal that have so far been stymied over partisan battles on union-organizing rules and other issues. If they're not going to pass a job-creation measure they should at least find a way to pass these bills so they can prevent millions of of private and publica jobs from being lost.

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New Jobs for America

September 1, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Over the next few weeks, as Congress returns and the discussion shifts to unemployment, I'll be highlighting bills in Congress that have already been introduced to create jobs and help those who have been hurt by the crisis. Rather than focusing on the proposals that have been vaulted into the media spotlight by party leaders, I'll be looking mainly at bills that represent alternative ideas that have been mostly ignored. Today, I'll start with Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee's [D, TX] New Jobs for America Act of 2011, which would create a jobs training program for the unemployed focused on helping people update their skills for emerging industries. 

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Republicans Unveil Fall Jobs Agenda

August 29, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Since Congress has been on August recess, the U.S. has lost its prime credit rating for the first time in history, the Congressional Budget Office has dramatically lowered their unemployment recovery expectations, and more economists have come out with predictions of a double-dip recession. Given all that, it seems reasonable to think that Congress might come back from recess ready to put aside the partisanship and forge a compromise to create jobs and begin stabilizing the economy. The Republicans in the House of Representatives today unveiled their fall agenda -- let's take a look at what kinds of fresh ideas they've come up with over the past month.

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A Supercommittee for Jobs

August 11, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

We saw during the debt ceiling standoff that the political-party-driven, filibuster-choked Congress is basically incapable of passing deficit reduction legislation. That's why they created the "joint select committee on deficit reduction" (a.k.a. the "Super Congress") and established special rules and a spending-cut trigger that make their proposal more likely to pass. But Congress has been equally ineffective when it comes to addressing another important problem plaguing the economy -- unemployment. Even very mild, traditionally bipartisan job creation plans are being caught up in the gridlock and killed. So, if Congress actually wants to fix unemployment, why not create a "joint select committee on job creation" and give them special powers just like the deficit committee? That's exactly what Rep. John Larson [D, CT] is suggesting.

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First up in the big pivot to jobs that's going to sweep Washington when Congress comes back from August recess is H.R.1249, the "America Invents Act." The bill isn't exactly a response to the current unemployment crisis; it's designed to streamline the U.S. patent system, and it's been sitting around in Congress in various forms since 2005. Supporters of the bill even admit that job creation would be a "happy byproduct," not the main focus.

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Good luck with that pivot

August 5, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

With the debt ceiling debate over for now, the Obama Administration is promising a "pivot to jobs." Given that the trillions in cuts in the debt bill are going to cause higher rates of unemployment than what we would have had otherwiset, shifting to job creation makes sense. But the Administration can't create jobs on their own, they need legislation from Congress. Given Congress' recent history with handling jobs bills, don't be surprised if the pivot doesn't result in anything but bitter feelings.

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One effect of the structural unemployment situation we are stuck in is that some employers have begun assuming that people who don't have jobs must be bad workers and, therefore, shouldn't be considered for hiring. Of course, that line of logic doesn't comply with the facts of the situation. Since 2008, millions of people really have lost their jobs "through no fault of their own," and the jobs market as a whole has shrunken. The U.S. economy no longer accomodates the U.S. work force. Hence the stagnation in unemployment.

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Richard Cohen at Politico has a piece this morning on what is probably the most important trend in Congress right now. According to the article, Republicans, from the leadership down, are warming up to the idea of raising revenue through increasing corporate tax rates and closing loopholes. "The targeting of long-protected tax breaks — for ethanol, research and development, manufacturing and foreign company income — is a sign that key House Republicans are ready to break with the orthodoxy of past tax debates while ditching special interests that have long held sway in tax reform discussions," Cohen writes. So what does it mean for the hottest issue among users of OpenCongress -- extending unemployment insurance for the very-long-term unemployed who have exhausted all available benefits without finding new work?

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Yesterday I wrote about the Senate's latest attempt to actually do something about the unemployment crisis. Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] called on the Senate to proceed to the bipartisan Economic Development Revitalization Act of 2011, which reauthorizes the Economic Development Administration to make grants to struggling communities for the purpose of creating and retaining jobs. Yesterday the Senate did something they rarely do these days -- they actually agreed to drop a pending filibuster and move to debate the bill by unanimous consent. That's progress, but here's the problem. The bill has already been loaded up with dozens of unrelated, controversial amendments, and if senators exercise their right to insist on holding votes on them, there is almost no way this non-controversial, bipartisan jobs bill will survive.

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Senate Moves to Economic Development Bill

June 7, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

After renewing the PATRIOT Act and taking some time off, the Senate is ready to try again to do something related to the unemployment crisis we are stuck in. In April they spent weeks working on asmall business jobs bill, only to see it filibustered in the end over a controversial amendment. Now they're going to try the Economic Development Revitalization Act of 2011, which would reauthorize and expand the grant-making Economic Development Administration through 2015. Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] has filed for cloture on the bill, but he's hoping to reach a unanimous consent agreement to proceed to it this afternoon.

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Even as the economy slowly recovers and new jobs are created, millions of the hardest hit unemployed continue to be left behind. In April, the number of unemployed workers who have been without a job for more than two years increased by 21,000 to 14.5% of all unemployed. As Lauren Victoria Burke reported recently following a meeting between Barack Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus, the very-long-term unemployed are being shut out of the conversation because their growing numbers contradict the economic picture the President is trying to paint:

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99er Advocates Meet With Republican Leadership

April 14, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Reps. Barbara Lee [D, CA-9] and Bobby Scott [D, VA-3] -- the long-term unemployed's lead advocates in Congress -- managed to sit down with the Republican House leadership this morning to talk about their bill, H.R.589, to extend unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work for two years or longer. Just getting a meeting with the Republicans who control the legislative flow in the House is a big step forward for Lee and Scott. But, unfortunately, it does not sound like a lot of progress was made during the discussion.

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If the Congressional Black Caucus wants to pass H.R.589 and help the long-term unemployed, this is not the way to go about it:

In an exchange during their meeting last Wednesday with the President, CBC Chair Emanuel Cleaver called the cost of the 99ers bill (H.R. 589 sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee of California) “prohibitive.”

In Rep. Cleaver’s words: “It was what I expected because my staff had done a lot of research on it.  And we found that the cost of that program would be between $14 and 20 billion dollars which is cost prohibitive. 

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