Unions and liberal groups blast Reid’s $15 billion jobs legislation as 'puny'

Unions and liberal groups have dismissed Sen. Harry Reid’s $15 billion jobs bill as "puny" while calling for larger stimulus measures.

More than two dozen organizations, including the AFL-CIO, National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP) and National Council of La Raza, warned Democratic leaders in Congress to avoid tackling the troubled economy through incremental action.

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They urged the Senate to pass the $15 billion jobs measure, which features a hiring tax cut for small businesses, but called for much more legislation to bring down an unemployment rate the White House projects to average 10 percent this year, more than 9 percent next year and over 8 percent in 2012.

"If this $15 billion was the only thing [that passed], that would be like having an amputated arm and sticking a Band-Aid on the end of it," said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, on a conference call Friday.

Lawrence Mishel, head of the union-backed Economic Policy Institute think tank, described the $15 billion bill being pushed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as "small, puny."

In addition to the $13 billion hiring tax credit, Reid's bill includes money to extend the federal trust fund for highway and other transportation projects, a tax break allowing businesses to write off losses from depreciating equipment and bonds for state and local government infrastructure projects. Reid has set up a Monday procedural vote to bring the bill up for debate, and Democrats hope to pass it later next week.

The left-leaning coalition is proposing its own jobs package that goes beyond the House Democrats' $154 billion jobs bill, which passed without House Republican votes in December.

In a letter to Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the coalition called for an extension of increased unemployment and COBRA healthcare benefits for the rest of the year. The House bill provides $63 billion for a three-month extension of those benefits, which are set to expire in February.

The liberal groups' jobs package also calls for $40 billion for public works and job training programs, $70 billion for school construction, $10 billion in loans for low-income homeowners facing foreclosure and other provisions making it easier for distressed homeowners to keep their property.

The coalition's criticism of the Senate bill echoes that of liberal Democrats.

Pelosi said last week that House members want the pieces of their jobs bill, which features infrastructure spending and fiscal aid to state and local governments hoping to stave off public worker layoffs, in the legislative package that Congress sends to President Barack Obama.

“The House looks forward to reviewing the Senate proposal and working together on legislation that creates jobs and helps our families, small businesses and workers," Pelosi said in a statement.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said job-creation measures should include fewer tax breaks and more spending to directly create jobs.

Brown spokeswoman Meghan Dubyak said the senator will back the bill but wants it to be part of a series of job measures this year.

"He wants to see legislation that helps unfreeze the credit market for businesses, helps manufacturers retool for the clean-energy economy, extends unemployment insurance and COBRA assistance and provides increased support to states so that programs essential to Ohioans can continue," Dubyak said.