Judiciary panel preps jobs agenda

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is preparing a fall work program for his committee that is aimed almost exclusively at boosting and protecting U.S. jobs. 

The agenda includes bills that would reduce regulatory burdens to job growth, require employers to verify the legality of potential employees and fight intellectual property theft around the world.

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In a Thursday interview with The Hill, Smith stressed the importance of focusing on jobs at a time of continued high unemployment and economic uncertainty, and said other issues would likely take a backseat to what he called the Judicial Jobs Agenda.

If its not part of the jobs agenda, its not likely to come up for consideration this fall, Smith said. 

That means other bills the committee has considered, including controversial legislation ending birthright citizenship for children born to undocumented parents and a bill aimed at preventing mass amnesty for illegal residents, are not likely to surface this year.

Smith said he is optimistic that Congress will be able to find some way to work together on the daunting issues of the debt and the economy, in large part because of the growing dissatisfaction with the federal governments performance.

I do think well actually get more done, he said. The American people are demanding it now, and you see that with, frankly, the publics disappointment in their government. That does tend to rivet elected representatives, whether its the president or members of Congress.

At the same time, he said President Obamas latest proposals for more stimulus spending and higher taxes are a real hurdle.

Never in the history of this country has an increase in taxes generated one job, he said of Obamas latest plan. So I think hes still tone deaf on the jobs issue when he thinks that increasing taxes is going to create jobs.

September may see committee action on two bills that reflect the Republican policy preference for boosting jobs, which is to reduce regulatory burdens. Those are the Regulations in Need of Scrutiny Act, which would require congressional approval of regulations that carry compliance costs of $100 million or more, and the Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act, which would require agencies to assess the effects of regulations on small companies.

Smith said these bills are critical to fighting what he said was a new wave of regulatory burdens that the Obama administration has imposed on companies. Proof of this, he said, is found in reports showing that employment at regulatory agencies has increased over the last 30 months, as a record number of regulations have been issued.

So while millions of Americans lost their jobs, meanwhile, the employment of the agencies issuing regulations has gone up 13 percent, Smith said.

The chairman said he is optimistic that these bills could be passed into law, in particular given President Obamas recent statement that he opposes regulations that hurt job growth.

Of course, we know that was campaign rhetoric, but at least hes on record as officially opposing burdensome regulations, he said. So well give the president a chance to keep his promises on that.

Also expected in the fall is action on H.R. 2164, a bill that would require all U.S. employers to electronically verify the legal status of prospective hires. While some states are already using this e-verify system, Smith said legislation is still needed because even states that are using it are falling short of requiring all companies to participate.

He said that with 24 million unemployed or underemployed U.S. workers, and 7 million illegal workers in the United States, passing the bill is a way to help find work for legal citizens.

Im not necessarily arguing its going to be a 1-to-1 trade, but I do believe that if we open up those 7 million jobs or most of those 7 million jobs, we will find jobs for several million unemployed Americans, Smith said.

He added that there is a strong sense that Obama would sign the bill into law if it could pass the House and Senate.

I think the general feeling, which is a very strong feeling, is that if we get it to the presidents desk he will sign it,” Smith said. How do you not sign it with 9 percent unemployment and with the jobs [it would create] going to American workers?

On intellectual property, Smith said plans are being made to introduce new legislation in September that cracks down on online infringement. The details are still being worked out, but the bill may try to cut off payments made to U.S. companies that are generated by intellectual property theft in China and other countries. Smith said this bill can also be expected to increase funds for the Department of Justice for Internet-protocol enforcement.

Another jobs-related bill that remains a priority is medical liability reform legislation. The Judiciary Committee has already approved H.R. 5, which is aimed at limiting medical lawsuits, and Smith said he hopes some agreement can be reached with the White House on a way to address this issue.

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I dont pretend that [Obama] supports the bill that we introduced and passed in the Judiciary Committee, but Im hoping to find common ground with the administration on that issue, Smith said. Clearly, frivolous lawsuits cost people their livelihoods, they cost people their reputation, they contribute unnecessarily to medical costs that are passed on to ... the patients, and they drive up liability insurance premiums.

Elsewhere, Smiths committee has already approved a patent-reform bill, H.R. 1249, that he said would modernize the U.S. patent system and thus help protect job creation.

This may well be the most significant jobs bill passed this year, he said, adding that intellectual property-oriented companies account for half of all U.S. exports, which means reforming the patent system is a job creator. The Senate is expected to take up the House bill once it returns in September.

The one bill Smiths committee is expected to take up that does not fall strictly into the Judicial Jobs Agenda is H.R. 1981, the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act.

This is the one exception to the rule, he said. This is where we actually hope to put people out of business.