Questions For Congress Members Now Where Are The Jobs

Isaiah J. Poole

Even Wall Street today rendered an unexpectedly brutal verdict on the passage of the deficit-reduction deal signed off on by President Obama and congressional leadership. Today, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 265 points, falling below 12,000. The reason: "“They had to agree on fiscal contraction that would weigh on growth,” Myles Zyblock, strategist and researcher at RBC Capital Markets, told The New York Times.

In other words, it’s the jobs, stupid. And that has to be the mantra this month, when members of Congress are in their districts and will have to account for the decisions they have made in the past few weeks.

President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders wasted no time today pivoting to what should have been the number one focus of the nation instead of the debt-ceiling cliffhanger created by Tea Party extremists. That’s good, and to their credit, there is amid the political posturing some real substance in the agenda they highlighted.

There is also, unfortunately, some kowtowing to corporate interests and some inside-the-Beltway un-wisdom. And the best elements of the jobs agenda that Obama and the Democrats say they want have been severely hobbled by the debt deal they just voted for. There is also the fact that the debt deal will actually lead to lost jobs. The Economic Policy Institute today estimates that discretionary budget cuts called for in the deficit deal would mean the loss of 323,000 jobs.

That makes it all the more critical that citizens be prepared to confront their members of Congress this month with direct questions about where they stand and why. Here are four questions to get started:

1. Right now, 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration workers have been furloughed and about 90,000 private sector workers have been affected by a shutdown forced by Republican objections to an effort to make labor organizing elections more fair for aviation workers and by their apparently politically motivated move to cutoff  subsidies to rural airports in Democratic districts. Why did you adjourn for a five-week recess before this crisis was resolved? For Republican members, were these 94,000 workers that unimportant to you that you would make them casualties of your war against unions and against government?

2. Will you prioritize passage of a six-year surface transportation bill when you return to Congress in September that will be big enough to address the $1.7  trillion worth of investment the American Society of Civil Engineers says our transportation networks need between now and 2020? Right now, House Republicans have a bill that would only commit $35 billion a year in spending. A transportation bill of a scale that would meet the need—and save the economy an estimated almost $130 billion a year through lower transportation costs and greater efficiency—would create millions of jobs right away and set the country up for long-term global competitiveness. So why aren’t we doing this, like, yesterday?

3. One simple, low-cost step to help state and local governments create jobs while improving transportation networks and other public needs  is the creation of a national infrastructure bank. The bank would help bring private sector capital to bear to help pay for improvements that range from a more efficient energy grid to urban rail projects. A bill by Rep. Rose DeLauro to create such a bank has been pending in the House for several months, and there’s also a bipartisan bill in the Senate. Will you support this bill and work to get a vote on this in September?

4. Right now hundreds of communities around the country have unemployment rates that range from 15 percent to as high as 40 percent. These communities have not, and may never, rebound on their own without special federal help. Yet, by targeting the bulk of federal spending cuts on discretionary programs, the economic development programs that have traditionally been used to help these communities back on their feet are now the ones that are most likely to be on the chopping block. What are you prepared to do to make sure that the communities that have been hit hardest by the Great Recession are not now the ones that will also be hit hardest by cuts in federal spending? What will you say to the concerned political leaders of those communities? For example, would you support a federally led clean energy initiative with a component targeted at areas of high unemployment—and make that happen this fall?

President Obama, in his White House address earlier today, was correct when he said, “While Washington has been absorbed in this debate about deficits, people across the country are asking, What can we do to help the father looking for work? What are we going to do for the single mom who’s seen her hours cut back at the hospital? What are we going to do to make it easier for businesses to put up that “now hiring” sign?”

The answers to those questions are “much less than we should” thanks to a deficit reduction deal that will force cuts in government spending at a time when more government spending is needed, and avoids asking the largest corporations and wealthiest Americans—those who are emerging with record profits despite the weak economy—to sacrifice anything to help the rest of the nation recover.

Still, there are several concrete steps that members of Congress and President Obama should be asked this month to take for the roughly 24 million Americans who are looking for full-time work.

We have seen the passion and energy members of Congress are willing to devote to the demands of Tea Party extremists, who are for the most part doing the bidding of the corporate interests who bankrolled their elections (and who are now having regrets about the Congress their money bought). Let’s see what members of Congress are prepared to do for the ranks of the unemployed.

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