By Alexander Bolton - 02/01/11 11:09 AM EST
Democrats are trying to push a jobs agenda on the cheap at a time when Republicans have pledged to block any legislation that would add to the federal deficit.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) held a conference call Monday afternoon to tout the long-delayed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill as the first item on the 2011 jobs agenda.
But Democratic leaders have so far stayed away from more controversial proposals that liberals say could create tens of thousands of jobs at little cost.
Specifically, liberals are pushing for “Buy American” provisions that would require the federal government to buy goods and materials from domestic suppliers.
They also want President Obama to insist on export parity with China to balance the national trade deficit.
A third idea would be to set up a national infrastructure investment bank. Under this plan, the fed would pump money into the economy by buying infrastructure bonds that would guarantee federal money goes to infrastructure construction and job creation.
While these proposals would not add substantially to the deficit, they would meet considerable opposition from Republicans and some Democrats on Capitol Hill. They could also face staunch opposition from U.S. companies that outsource their manufacturing, such as Caterpillar and General Electric.
Reid, Senate Democratic Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) launched the floor debate over the FAA reauthorization with a conference call on Monday.
Reid said the legislation would protect “hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs” and called on Congress to expand the nation’s passenger and cargo transportation capacity.
The legislation would invest $8.1 billion in capital improvements at airports around the country, an investment that would create or save 280,000 jobs, according to the American Association of Airport Executives.
Senate Democrats said the legislation is paid for with user fees and would not add to the federal deficit.
Schumer said the bill is part of President Obama’s agenda to “invest in programs that grow jobs, the economy and middle-class paychecks.”
The FAA bill is a leftover from the 111th Congress and is one of the least controversial agenda items available to inaugurate the new session.
It’s the same bill that passed the Senate last year by a vote of 93-0, only to get hung up in Senate-House conference negotiations over the nettlesome issue of long-distance flights to and from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Reid said he would move the bill without addressing the issue of long-distance flight slots, leaving it to senators to offer amendments on the floor.
But liberals are not enthusiastic about the centrist approach to job creation.
“We’ll take job creation any way we can get it, but there are ways to create jobs without spending money that are more effective than what they’re talking about with the FAA extension,” said Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future.
“Passing ‘Buy American’ provisions at every level of government would not only create demand for American-made goods but it would encourage foreign companies to make siting plans for manufacturing here,” he added.
The administration’s strategy for working with businesses to encourage innovation has won plaudits from centrist Democrats, however.
“Some of the most innovative ideas have come from small businesses, and the ‘Startup America’ Initiative’s goal is to make sure that these potential success stories do not fall by the wayside,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
But Senate Republicans have met the Democrats’ low-cost approach with skepticism.
“This is the same group of people who promised the stimulus package would save or create 4 million jobs, the health job would create another 4 million jobs,” said a senior Senate GOP aide. “The only thing the economy has done since a member of their party became president is shed 3 million jobs.”
The Senate Republican Communications Center issued a press release Monday noting the 9.4 percent unemployment rate, declaring: “Dems continue to claim ‘hundreds of thousands of jobs’ in every bill they consider but after two years of false promises, America has lost nearly 3 million jobs.”
Democrats, in turn, have accused the Republicans of not offering legislation to boost hiring. They have pointed to recent comments by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) urging her GOP colleagues to focus on job creation instead of fighting a messaging battle over healthcare reform.