Obama's Jobs Plan in 90 Seconds

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On September 8th, President Barack Obama introduced his plan to create jobs and curb unemployment; The American Jobs Act.

A tough road lies ahead for the American Jobs Act, with Republicans lining up against it and some conservative Democrats publicly expressing concerns. But behind the political chatter there is a bill and whether you like it or not it is important to know what's actually in it.

You've got 90 seconds, so please check out this week's episode. And as always, more information below the fold.

 

There's more...

Weekly Audit: Why Are Unemployment Benefits A Major Political Fight?

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Congress finally authorized an extension of unemployment benefits on Wednesday, providing a critical lifeline to families across the country and an absolutely essential boost to the economy.

But with the jobless rate hovering near 10 percent, minimum measures like unemployment benefits shouldn’t be a source of controversy. Lawmakers should be debating big-picture jobs packages to get people back to work, not drips and drabs that keep a worst-case-scenario from getting unbearable.

As Annie Lowrey notes for the Iowa Independent, Senate Republicans blocked the unemployment benefits bill for two months, causing benefits to lapse for 2.6 million Americans. That’s a humanitarian outrage. When people don’t have access to this minimal support, they can’t pay bills or feed their kids. There is no excuse for anyone in a position of power to cut off access to such basic social necessities. So what’s the hold up?

It’s a mix of talking points and public misconception. Conservatives have been demonizing the unemployed and using erroneous claims about the federal budget deficit as an excuse to block unemployment benefits, and that narrative has been reinforced by President Barack Obama’s handling of the public debate over the economic stimulus package approved in February 2009.

Unemployment Benefits = Economic Stimulus

In addition to the humanitarian imperative, there’s a broader economic case for extending unemployment benefits. When people are out of work, they can’t spend money. If people don’t spend money, businesses can’t sell anything. And if businesses can’t sell anything, they have to lay off more workers. Putting money in the pockets of the unemployed isn’t just a humanitarian necessity—it also prevents layoffs and creates jobs.

But you wouldn’t know it from the economically illiterate nonsense that conservatives have been spewing during the unemployment benefits debate. Writing for The Nation, Robert Scheer quotes prominent conservative intellectual Niall Ferguson. Here’s Ferguson’s vile diatribe blaming lazy, unemployed people for the recession:

“If you pay people to do nothing, they’ll find themselves doing nothing for very long periods of time. Long-term unemployment is at an all-time high in the United States, and it is a direct consequence of a misconceived public policy.”

$293 a week

Ferguson actually said that. He really believes that a major reason why unemployment is so high is because the United States pays out unemployment benefits, and that jobs would just miraculously be created if we stopped supporting the people hit hardest by the recession. And as Seth Freed Wessler emphasizes for ColorLines, Republican politicians repeatedly parroted this nonsense argument again as they attempted to block the unemployment benefits legislation.

Wessler notes that the average unemployment benefits package comes to just $293 per week. People like to feel like they have contributed meaningfully to society and be rewarded with an honest day’s pay. They do not choose to live in squalor out of laziness, as much as Ferguson might wish that were the case.

Preventing more public-sector layoffs

The economy has shed 8 million jobs since the Wall Street crash. Our job woes are a direct result of recklessness in the upper echelons of the financial sector—lazy workers did not create the recession, and they are not prolonging it.

Given the enormity of lost jobs, you’d think politicians would be considering robust programs to put people back to work—hundreds of billions of dollars in jobs programs, rather than a $30 billion extension of unemployment checks.

As Danny Schechter details for GRITtv, the economy is facing a host of major hurdles that hit families hardest. In addition to epic joblessness, we’re also facing record foreclosure numbers and state budgets that are stretched beyond the breaking point. The state situation is dire. Without federal aid, states will be forced to lay off 900,000 public employees in the coming months

That’s what makes the jobs debate so crazy. There are easy ways to prevent layoffs and create jobs right now. A quick injection of cash into state governments would have an immediate stabilizing effect. The government can’t bring the unemployment rate down to 5 percent overnight, but it can keep things from getting worse and start bringing the rate down.

Don’t blame the deficit

But, as Lowrey notes, some conservatives are not blaming the unemployed, but harping on the deficit, claiming that they’re all for benefits, they just want them to be paid for. This is a disingenuous excuse for inaction.

The conservative deficit-talk is totally misleading, and it’s the wrong way to deal with deficits. Since Republicans have been universally opposed to all tax increases, demanding that unemployment benefits be paid for means pulling spending out of other programs, which means cutting jobs in other areas (slashing the defense budget probably wouldn’t hurt the jobs picture, but good luck getting a Republican to vote for it).

The U.S. doesn’t have a deficit problem. If it did, investors would be demanding a very high interest rate on U.S. Treasury bonds. But in fact, the interest rate on those bonds is at record lows. If the U.S. did have a deficit problem, however, sabotaging jobs and growth would be a lousy way to fix it. Consider Ireland. The country had a vastly larger deficit than that faced by the U.S., and implemented draconian austerity programs. Those spending cuts hit economic growth so hard that the nation’s deficit problem actually got worse, so much worse that the rating agency Moody’s just downgraded Ireland’s debt.

If the U.S. wants to deal with deficit issues, it should address big long-term structural issues, like the enormous defense budget, extremely generous tax rates for the wealthy and the rising cost of health care. It makes zero economic sense to be attacking jobs in the name of the deficit, when doing so only makes the deficit larger.

What about that economic stimulus package?

So why can’t we get a decent jobs package? As Steve Benen notes for The Washington Monthly, much of the public uneasiness stems from misunderstandings about how the economic stimulus package passed in February 2009 worked.

The stimulus was very much a success—it kept the unemployment rate from reaching 12 percent or higher. But it was also much too small, in part because the Obama administration underestimated the severity of the recession, but mostly because Republicans created ludicrous political hurdles for the package, forcing it to shrink. Unfortunately, with unemployment still out of control, many in the public believe the stimulus didn’t actually stimulate. That’s the wrong lesson to learn. As Benen puts it:

“Imagine there’s a massive, dangerous fire. Those responsible for the blaze insist that some lighter fluid should take care of the problem, while the fire department recommends water. Forced to compromise, the fire department uses less water than is needed, and the blaze is only partially contained.”

It’s about time Congress got around to extending unemployment benefits. But in the face of the longest and most severe jobs crisis since the Great Depression, much stronger action on jobs is needed, and soon.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: How Reid’s Energy Bill Undermines Senate Climate Efforts

 

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced a limited energy bill that responds to the oil spill and promotes energy efficiency. Reid’s action is a signal that the Senate will not pass climate legislation before November, although Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) said that a climate bill could come up in the lame-duck session following the election.

“The Senate’s climate bill is officially dead,” Kate Sheppard writes at Mother Jones. “And given that Democrats will almost certainly hold fewer seats in Congress next year, major action on the climate is unlikely to be revived anytime soon.”

Since 2009, expectations for a bill regulating carbon emissions have steadily declined. After this latest failure in the Senate, the best near-term hope for addressing climate change comes from the Environmental Protection Agency, which still has the power to regulate carbon emissions.

At the Washington Independent, Andrew Restuccia reports that Sen. Reid’s bill will likely hold oil companies more financially accountable for spills by lifting the cap on their liability for economic damages and will nudge homeowners towards energy efficiency.

But, Restuccia writes, a sources tells him that “significantly…the bill might not include a renewable energy standard.” Such a standard would require an increasing percentage of the country’s electricity to come from sources like wind and solar.

The energy bill could create jobs

Sen. Reid has often emphasized that an energy bill is also a jobs bill: Innovation in the clean energy sector creates employment opportunities at a time when they’re sorely needed. Dropping the renewable energy standard could also mean diminishing the potential for job creation.

Public News Service reports that in rural areas, a standard could create thousands of jobs.

“The Department of Energy says, if we get to 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from wind by the year 2030”—one of the less ambitious standards proposed—“it would mean 3,000 to 4,000 new jobs in most of our states,” Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, said. “There’s not a lot of things out there bringing that kind of new economic opportunity to rural America, so it could be a great thing for us.”

The Gulf Coast connection

The need for job opportunities extends beyond rural areas. In the Gulf Coast, for instance, even fishermen left idle by the oil spill are hoping the oil industry resumes drilling soon. Their communities need those jobs. As Jerome Ringo, who worked for two decades in the oil industry, writes at The Progressive, “With unemployment still in the double digits across the nation, and the people on the Gulf Coast struggling to survive, we need far more clean energy job growth than what we’re seeing right now.”

That’s not going to happen without a long-term commitment to clean energy from the government, Ringo argues. “Businesses need this signal to know how to invest, and, with this signal, they will move in a direction that creates many more jobs in areas like renewable energy and electric cars for people like me who once worked in oil and gas.”

Climate refugees

That transition won’t happen overnight, but it’s important to start in that direction as soon as possible. In the United States, the effects of climate change are affecting people—farmers dealing with strange weather, for instance—but the impact is not obvious in the every day lives of Americans.

Not everyone has that luxury, though. LinkTV’s Earth Focus reports on the plight of climate refuges in New Guinea. In a new film, Jennifer Redfearn documents the story of the country’s Carteret Islanders—the first group to organize a community-wide evacuation of their home in the face of climate change. As the sea level rises around their island, storm surges increase and fresh water becomes salty. Carteret Islanders are looking to move to Bougainville, a neighboring island recovering from civil war.

“I’ve heard about you Carterets. You are an easy-going people,” one leader tells them. “Here it is totally different.”

The longer Americans wait to start scaling back our energy use, the more people around the globe will be displaced.

Hydrofracking

When moving towards clean energy, however, it is important that leaders in Washington and on the state level watch emerging energy companies closely. For instance, The New York Times reports that Reid’s bill will promote natural gas production. But as natural gas grows more popular as a bridge fuel, communities and legislators are discovering more dangerous environmental impacts from the hydrofracture drilling process that companies use to extract the gas from shale deposits.

Josh Fox’s recent documentary, Gasland, showed that residents across the country in fracking areas have had their drinking water contaminated. The natural gas industry is pushing back hard against the claims his film makes. Truthout reports that “Energy In Depth (EID), an information service created and funded by the oil and gas industry, recently posted ‘Debunking Gasland,’ a point-by-point argument against the Fox’s startling discoveries. EID paints Fox as a ‘purveyor of the avant-garde’ who is guilty of ‘flat-out making stuff up.’”

Fox isn’t the only one to voice concerns about water quality, either. GritTV recently heard from residents in the Delaware River Basin about their concerns. “No water for gas” is their rallying cry.

Water, water, everywhere

Fox is fighting back, but the response to his film shows that the industry is ready to push back against any criticisms of its practices. It has also resisted effects by regulators to require disclose of the chemicals it uses in its extraction process.

But as the Washington Independent’s Restuccia reports, “Momentum is building in the House to pass new regulations on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, in which water, sand and a mixture of potentially harmful chemicals are injected into the ground in order to gain access to natural gas.”

Unfortunately, if the fate of the climate bill is any indication, any environmental legislation, even with momentum, has little chance of moving through Congress right now.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Audit: Senate Republicans Nix Jobs Bill

by Annie Shields, Media Consortium blogger

It looks as if election-year strategies are trumping any actual problem-solving efforts from 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.

Killed bill

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.

GOP immobile

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.”

McConnell’s incoherency

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.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Jobs bill looks dead for now

The Senate version of a bill designed to create jobs, support state budgets and extend various tax credits and benefit programs failed to overcome a Republican filibuster yesterday. Although 56 members of the Democratic caucus voted for the cloture motion (which would end debate on the bill), Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut voted with all the Republicans present to kill it (roll call here). Joan McCarter observed that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

voted yes, without changing his vote, signaling that this iteration of the bill is indeed dead.

Reid followed the vote by attempting to pass the emergency provisions of the bill, the "doc fix," unemployment benefits extension, and FMAP as well as the homebuyer tax credit, as separate bills under unanimous consent. McConnell objected to each, so we're stuck in further limbo.

Extending unemployment benefits should be a no-brainer when the percentage of unemployed Americans who have been out of work for more than six months is higher "than at any time since the government began keeping track in 1948." Without the "doc fix," medical providers' reimbursements for Medicare patients stand to drop about 20 percent. FMAP stands for Federal Medical Assistance Percentage funding, relating to federal government reimbursements for part of each state’s Medicaid spending. The 2009 stimulus bill temporarily raised FMAP payments for states during the recession, with larger increases going to states with higher unemployment rates. Failing to extend this provision will put state budgets under further strain for the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years.

Republicans who blocked this bill claim we should not be adding to the federal deficit. A spokesman for GOP enabler Ben Nelson laid out his views here. Ezra Klein pointed out a few glaring problems with the analysis: the federal budget can't start approaching balance with unemployment at 9 percent, polls show Americans are much more concerned about jobs than the deficit, and the current rate of economic recovery is "far, far too slow to really dent unemployment." Meanwhile, the same senators who claim to oppose adding to the deficit also oppose rolling back tax cuts or tax loopholes for the wealthy in order to pay for extending unemployed benefits, state fiscal aid and tax credits.

I share John Aravosis' view that it was a terrible mistake for President Barack Obama to talk tough about reducing the deficit earlier this year. As Aravosis writes,

[T]he President didn't want to blame Bush and the GOP for the deficit, and he didn't want to sufficiently defend the stimulus and explain to people that they had a choice between a Great Depression and a bigger deficit. [...] If the public understood that the deficit was a) mostly caused by Bush, and b) not nearly as important as staving off a Depression and creating jobs, the GOP would be facing far more pressure not to launch these filibusters at all.

Perhaps no jobs bill passed this week would alter the economy enough to affect the November elections, but if we accept current unemployment levels and don't pass additional fiscal aid to the states, the economy may still be very weak leading up to the 2012 election.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread. From where I'm sitting, the case for filibuster reform has never looked stronger.

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