Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday indicated Congress needs to worry about government jobs more than private-sector jobs, and that this is why Senate Democrats are pushing a bill aimed at shoring up teachers and first-responders.
"It's very clear that private-sector jobs have been doing just fine; it's the public-sector jobs where we've lost huge numbers, and that's what this legislation is all about," Reid said on the Senate floor.
The legislation Reid is defending is part of Obama's jobs package. Vice President Biden was in Pennsylvania, an important election state, on Tuesday to push for the administration's plan on increasing the number of teachers.
Reid reiterated his emphasis on creating government jobs by saying Democrats are looking to "put hundreds of thousands of people back to work teaching children, have more police patrolling our streets, firefighters fighting our fires, doing the rescue work that they do so well … that's our priority." He said Republicans are calling the bill a "failure" because they are "using a different benchmark for success than we are."
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Private-sector jobs have increased over the last 19 months, while government jobs have lagged. They've also seen cuts in several states that are struggling to balanced their books.
Despite these comments, a spokesman for Reid pointed out that Senate Democrats have tried to pass several bills aimed at spurring private sector job growth, but have been blocked by Republicans. Among other things, Democrats have proposed tax cuts to help companies hire workers and write off expenses, as well as infrastructure jobs that would add to private construction payrolls.
"Senator Reid believes that Congress must work to spur job-creation in the private sector, which is why he's working to pass tax cuts for small businesses to hire new workers, tax cuts for small businesses to write off business expenses, and investments to create private-sector construction jobs," Spokesman Adam Jentleson said. "Republicans are blocking all of these proposals to create jobs in the private sector because they care more about defeating President Obama than putting Americans back to work."
Reid also said a majority of people polled support the bill, and that the tax hike needed to fund the $35 billion spending program is minimal.
"My friend, the Republican leader … is complaining about a tax of one-half of 1 percent … on people who make more than $1 million a year to pay for a program that would stop teachers from being laid off and rehire some of the teachers that have been laid off," Reid said.
Democrats who support the bill have said it would help save 400,000 teacher jobs and thousands of first-responder jobs that have either been cut or could soon be cut. Reid said Wednesday that these layoffs are "rooted in the last administration," but did not explain further.
Senate Democrats are hoping to pass S. 1723 as early as this week, although votes could be delayed until early November, depending on the progress made on passing a 2012 spending bill.
Reid also dismissed efforts by the Republican House to ease environmental regulations as a way to create jobs.
"The Republican response has been cutting back environmental health safeguards, I guess hoping that a sicker, more polluted country is a better place to create jobs, and it's not," Reid said.
-- This story was last updated at 1:33 p.m.