Senate Uses Budget Technicality To Scuttle Jobs Bill For Vulnerable Workers

Our guest blogger is Melissa Boteach, the Half in Ten Manager at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH)

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH)

For the past few months, the talk around town has been around the conflicting imperatives of job creation and deficit reduction. Yet, somehow, a provision that would have created hundreds of thousands of jobs for vulnerable workers, without adding a penny to the deficit over the next 10 years, failed to muster the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate yesterday.

A fully paid-for amendment offered by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) that would have spent $1.3 billion to create up to 500,000 summer jobs for disadvantaged youth and $1.3 billion to provide opportunities for states to build on innovative Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs that are projected to create more than 100,000 subsidized jobs by September for vulnerable workers was scuttled by a 55-45 vote.

These two programs not only provide immediate economic relief for hard-hit families and communities; they have the potential to change the long-term employment prospects of youth and families by offering skills training and work experience so that workers can be full participants in the recovery that will eventually come.

It’s a tough economy for everyone right now, but among the hardest hit populations are low-income workers, youth and women heading families. A recent study revealed that workers earning less than $12,500 in the fourth quarter of last year were facing depression-era levels of unemployment (upwards of 30 percent). Those earning between $12,500 and $20,000 are not faring much better, with jobless rates hovering around 20 percent. Women heading families are also suffering disproportionately, with unemployment rates at 11.6 percent, and the most recent employment reports reveal that one in four young people aged 16-19 is out of a job right now.

Yet funding for two of the main programs to provide employment opportunities to these populations failed to pass on a procedural issue — and a silly one at that. A sizable majority supported the amendment, but Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) raised a “point of order,” charging that the amendment to the Senate’s jobs bill violated the pay-as-you-go rule, and therefore required 60 votes.

This is a technicality. The amendment paid for the job-creation over ten years instead of over five years. The pay-for strategy was actually good economics, considering that the amendment commits to pay for the provisions when the economy is likely to be stronger. But hey, never let good economics get in the way of gotcha politics!

The Senate should be applauded for moving forward on an extension of unemployment and health benefits for the jobless and providing fiscal relief to states to preserve the jobs of teachers, police officers, and firefighters. There may be other opportunities to obtain funding for summer jobs portion of the amendment, and advocates cannot give up on fighting for the TANF emergency fund in the House jobs bill.

But the Senate’s failure to pass an amendment to directly and cheaply create hundreds of thousands of jobs for our country’s vulnerable workers is difficult to comprehend. Given a choice between partisan politics and proven job creation strategies that have won the support of both Democratic and Republican governors, partisan politics won and struggling American workers lost.