By Walter Alarkon and Jared Allen - 11/12/09 11:00 AM EST
Labor unions pounced on the idea of a new jobs bill as a way to include several provisions that were cut out of the $787 billion stimulus package in order to placate a trio of Republican senators.
A day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told colleagues he plans to bring up such a measure, as first reported by The Hill, the AFL-CIO began pressing lawmakers to include more fiscal aid for state and local governments and more spending on infrastructure.
AFL-CIO Policy Director Thea Lee said states and local governments are expected to face budget shortfalls of a combined $600 billion despite getting about $200 billion in aid from the stimulus.
She argued that extra aid could help save more jobs if governments needed to cut public employee payrolls.
The union also wants to restore $10 billion for school construction and other projects stripped to help lower the price tag for Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who was a Republican at the time.
Reid, however, is keeping mum on what he wants a jobs bill to contain.
Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal economic policy group that includes the United Steelworkers and MoveOn.org members, said that Democrats need to push a jobs bill for both economic and political reasons.
Unemployment is expected to remain in double digits into next year, meaning that more than 15 million Americans will be looking for jobs and won’t be able to find them.
One of the big political questions during the 2010 congressional races will be “Who’s to blame?” Borosage said. To avoid Republican attacks, Democrats must be “visibly fighting” for job-creation measures, he added.
“[Democrats] are finally realizing that it’s smarter to admit they’re doing it and take credit about it and not worry about deficits,” said Borosage.
Borosage’s group supports increased state aid, more benefits for unemployed workers, direct jobs programs for young unemployed Americans and more infrastructure spending.
House leaders and leadership aides had no specific reaction to what Reid may be planning, mainly because they hadn’t seen a draft of a bill.
Even though Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took another stimulus bill off the table in mid-October — before the national unemployment rate rose above 10 percent — House leaders have been working on a variety of proposals to create jobs and spur hiring in sluggish sectors.
The House passed legislation to provide small businesses with tens of billions of dollars in new loans, which Democrats said will “help save or create 1.3 million jobs annually.”
The Senate has not yet taken up the small business loan bill, although Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has proposed similar legislation.
“We do hear from people out in the field that there isn’t credit there for small businesses, and that is an impediment for job creation,” Lee said.
House Democrats continued to fight resistance in the Senate and at the White House for a massive, long-term expansion of the highway authorization bill.
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) wants a six-year, $500 billion highway bill — as opposed to a short-term reauthorization — arguing that a massive investment in infrastructure projects could put a bigger dent in the wall of unemployment than any other standalone initiative.
But Democrats don’t have a politically palatable revenue stream for such a massive expenditure.
A variety of tax proposals, as well as a plan to use unspent stimulus funds, were all on the table before House leaders diverted all of their resources to passing their healthcare bill.
With healthcare temporarily behind them, Democrats will return to the highway bill and broader questions about how to combat the highest unemployment rate in over 25 years when they return to Washington next week.