Combating crisis conditions on several fronts, President Obama renewed a call to Congress to pass much needed jobs legislation. In a letter to members of the House and Senate, the president stressed the need to take action now: "We cannot afford to slide backwards just as our recovery is taking hold. We must take these emergency measures."
Powerful corporate interests in Congress however are blocking legislation. The New York Times claims that some representatives of both parties are holding extension of unemployment benefits hostage to tax cuts for the rich. In an editorial they said, "Some senators, including Democrats, have balked at an unrelated provision that would begin to close a tax loophole enjoyed by some of the richest Americans. You heard right. Desperately needed unemployment benefits have been held hostage to a tax break for the rich, and the Senate's Democratic leadership has had to delay and finagle to get its own caucus in line."
The political wrangling has deprived recently 325,000 workers of benefits.
The House of Representatives recently passed a scaled-back jobs package, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act. A similar bill remains stalled in the Senate.
The president's new push centers on job creation, tax incentives to small business, aid to states facing deficit crisis and a new extension of unemployment benefits.
White House initiatives in this regard have been repeatedly scaled back by Congress.
The AFL-CIO indicated its strong support for job creation and recession fighting legislation, pointing out that if Congress fails to act on unemployment insurance, "8.2 million workers will exhaust their benefits by the end of 2010."
The labor federation signaled its support to the recent legislative initiatives of Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. Baucus has proposed financial assistance to states, local infrastructure proposals and extension of unemployment benefits. Brown has proposed an amendment "to the appropriations bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that would extend the COBRA subsidy for laid-off workers."
However, some conservative Democrats along with Republicans have balked at these and other measures using deficit reduction as an excuse. "Late last week, several Democrats said they were unwilling to support the jobs package before the Senate, which includes several administration priorities. Among them: provisions to revive emergency benefits for unemployed workers, which expired June 2, as well as $24 billion in state aid that Obama has called critical to averting 'massive layoffs' of public-sector workers."
The National Conference of Mayors convention joined the call for federal action on jobs. Its president, Burnsville, Minn., Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, said, "If this country is indeed emerging from a recession as national economists say, many, many people in our cities don't feel it. The jobs picture in our cities is still dire, and we need immediate federal action to make sure the recovery arrives on Main Street."
Unemployment figures indicate that "148 of the nation's 363 metropolitan areas will still have unemployment rates above 10 percent by the end of this year, with 110 metro areas facing double-digit unemployment by the end of 2011."
Economists have warned that a double dip recession is in store if Congress fails to act.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW