To the displeasure of House Republicans, Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the House back into session yesterday. Interrupting their August Recess, Pelosi brought them back to vote on the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act, which was passed earlier by the House and by the Senate last Thursday. The legislation designed to provide relief to cash-strapped states was approved by a vote of 247-161, almost entirely along party lines.
Voting with Democrats were two Republicans, Rep. Anh Cao (R-LA) and Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE), and joining the Republican opposition were the Blue Dog Southern Democrat coalition, Rep. Bobby Bright (D-AL), Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS). There were 25 representatives who didn’t return from recess, amongst them were 7 Democrats, including Bay Area Congresswoman, Jackie Speier.
The legislation will send $26.1 billion in relief to the states, of which California is expected to receive $3.1 billion. The bill includes $10 billion in education funding, that according to Department of Education estimates, will save 161,000 teacher jobs nationwide and 16,500 in the Golden State. Also included in the bill is $16.1 billion to go to Medicaid. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the funding “will save 158,000 jobs, including police officers, firefighters, and health care workers.” The Institute also stresses that over half of these jobs will be in the private sector.
This is without doubt a positive development, right? Well, it should be unless your objective is something other than strengthening the recovery. The jobs that will be saved all belong to people who are likely to spend the money, causing a stimulating effect as the funds are returned into the economy. And saving the jobs prevents additional people from further burdening the economy through unemployment or demand for other social services. So, why are Republicans so set against the bill?
Beyond the annoyance expressed by California Republican, David Dreier, “This special emergency session…is in fact Washington, DC, at its absolute worst,” there are two “substantive” issues raised by Republicans. One, brought to the podium by House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) is the characterization of the bill as a “bailout.” Of course to put this in perspective, you have to understand that he’s not referring to Wall Street banks, or oil companies or auto makers — John Boehner is talking about the 50 states that form our nation.
Voicing his concern over the expenditure, Boehner asks, “Are we going to bail out states next year and the year after that too?” This deep distress from the same man who supports permanently extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich, at a cost of $678 billion, and then moves around like he’s on Dancing with Stars when asked how the cuts would be offset. It’s not about the deficit for Boehner and the Republicans — it never has been. It’s all about who foots the bill.
The Republicans have fought against this Jobs Bill, even though it’s completely paid for and was actually found, by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), to save $1.4 billion over 10 years. So, if the issue isn’t really deficits, what is it?
As sad as the commentary may be, the reason lies in the other “substantive” objective voiced by Republicans. They have some serious issues with how the bill is financed. Where Democrats see the $9.8 billion offset from closing loopholes that encourage corporations to ship jobs overseas as a positive, Republicans, like John Boehner, call it a “job-killing tax hike.” Of course, to Boehner, anything that reduces corporate profits is a negative, and anything that goes to what he calls “special interests” — teachers, police, firefighters — is just not affordable.
Also caught in the efforts to pay for the bill is an $11.9 billion cut to food stamps, which fortunately won’t go into effect until 2014. The plan is to just allow the increases provided under the ARRA to expire on schedule. It may be a lot to ask for, but with a little Republican help in place of obstruction, the funding could be restored by the time it’s needed or perhaps a real recovery could occur thereby obviating the need. At any rate, it seems a fair political trade-off in order to get the support to pass the bill.
The only real negative surrounding this bill is the fact that the help it provides is unsustainable. This legislation will not create many new jobs, nor will it address any inefficiency inherent in state and local government or their education systems. But these issues are structural and beyond the scope of stop-gap aid legislation. The bill does, however, provide temporary relief to help ease the burden on states and provide additional time to establish more long term solutions.
If there’s actually any real interest amongst Republicans to create good paying jobs for Americans, then they will drop their single-minded focus on preventing economic recovery — even if it weakens their chance in the November election. Should that be the case, they can start when they return in September, by dropping their two-month long filibuster against the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act and allowing it to provide money and incentives to those businesses they claim to support.