The Senate is expected to finally unveil some new jobs legislation as early as tomorrow, which Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) have been working on for the last few months. It will reportedly be in the neighborhood of $80 billion, which means it will be substantially smaller than the $154 billion effort that the House passed at the end of last year.
The Senate bill — which Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says is part of a “jobs agenda” — will reportedly include small business tax credits, a one-year extension of highway funding, bonds for state infrastructure projects, and a payroll tax credit for hiring proposed by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT).
This makeup reflects the Senate’s evident fear of doing anything that significantly adds to the deficit more than its determination to actually put people back to work. As Rep. George Miller (D-CA), who crafted the House’s plan, said, all of the job proposals that are on the table right now are pretty small-ball compared to the large unemployment problem:
The current proposals, [Miller said] “are not adequate to the scope of the problem. You still have a big gap between the resources we’re offering and where we need to be. Clearly, more has to be done”…”If you’re really going to make a dent in the unemployment numbers, you have to move in the direction of public jobs,” says Miller. “We could create a lot of those jobs — not with a great wage, but a decent wage. We could put people to work in local agencies.”
The Washington Post’s Harold Meyerson agreed, writing that the employment effect of the proposals “isn’t likely to be great.” The hiring tax credit in particular — which would waive the payroll tax for any employer that hires a worker that has been unemployed for 60 days — seems like it will be pretty ineffective. Much like the hiring credit proposed during the stimulus debate, it lends itself to being gamed (think of a restaurant firing its whole wait staff to go and find a bunch of unemployed waiters that it can hire and claim the credit) and has a lot of dead weight cost, as most of the hiring that will take place likely would have occurred even in the absence of a credit (think of the wasteful homebuyer’s tax credit).
And it really can’t be said enough just how weak the labor market is and how pressing it is to get serious about addressing unemployment. By the administration’s own estimates, unemployment will be 9.8 percent at the end of 2010, 8.9 percent at the end of 2011, and 7.9 percent at the end of 2012. That’s too high to let the deficit peacocks get their way and blunt the necessary steps to get people back to work.