Oh, the irony. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates was on Capitol Hill today telling a Senate appropriations subcommittee that Congress has to approve a $33 billion supplemental war funding request by July 4 or else “we begin to have to do stupid things,” the Senate did an incredibly stupid thing itself: By a vote of 45 to 52, it blocked a spending and tax measure that if enacted would prevent the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs nationwide and would begin to close a particularly egregious tax loophole.
Once again, a majority of the Senate has placed trying to use whipped-up fear of growing deficits to protect their own jobs over aggressive action to create and protect jobs for the American people.
HR 4213, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010, was the victim today of yet another conservative filibuster. But this time, several Democrats joined the typically unbroken wall of Republican opposition. Those Democrats were Sens. Evan Bayh, Ind.; Mark Begich, Ark.; Russ Feingold, Wis.; Herb Kohl, Wis.; Mary Landrieu, La.; Claire McCaskill. Mo.; Robert Menendez, N.J.; Bill Nelson, Fla.; Ben Nelson, Neb.; Mark Pryor, Ark., and Jim Webb, Va. Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, Conn., also voted to block the bill. Sens. Robert Byrd, W.Va.; and Blanche Lincoln, Ark., did not vote.
Just a taste of what was at stake in this bill was explained by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell earlier today. The bill included funding to offset state spending for Medicaid, and without that money “we will have to lay off 20,000 people. These would be teachers, state workers, fireman, policemen and caseworkers,” Rendell was quoted by CQ as saying.
In fact, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, about 900,000 jobs are likely to be lost in the next 12 months without federal aid that would help states keep these workers. And how stupid would it be to allow that to happen, in the name of deficit reduction?
Critics say that the measure would add $80 billion to the federal deficit. But what do we lose when 900,000 people who are teaching our children, protecting our lives and property, maintaining our public spaces and serving us in innumerable other ways are unemployed?
Here’s one way to think of the loss. On Sunday The Washington Post profiled Angie Walker, a D.C. resident living in view of the Capitol building in the city’s Ward 8. She has a 19-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old grandson. In her neighborhood, the Post reports, “unemployment, estimated at 25 percent, approaches 40 percent when counting the underemployed and those who have given up looking.” Her experience as a cook means that she can get some jobs, “but they’re almost always part time, low paying and temporary.”
What are we saying to Walker and her children when White House officials threaten to do “stupid things” if their defense spending proposals aren’t rubber-stamped by Congress but there are no comparable rumbles of thunder when Congress won’t act on a measure essential to the nation’s economic security?
Angie Walker is like a lot of us. She’s made a couple of wrong turns in her life but she’s now trying to do what those Senate deficit hawks say she’s supposed to do: apply for work and then apply herself when she gets that work. But playing by those rules doesn’t work when Congress won’t make the basic policy decisions that are necessary to get a broken economy to work. We can’t afford to send that message to Walker and her children. And if the economy is not working for Angie Walker and the thousands of other struggling Ward 8 residents, it’s not working, period.
It is time to tell the Senate that it is being stupid. The Senate must pass legislation that will aid the jobless and prevent a massive wave of layoffs.