Senate Conservatives Fine Saying No To Jobs

Isaiah J. Poole

As the Senate prepares for a vote on a $35 billion bill to support hiring of teachers and first responders around the country, conservative are pillorying Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for a bit of inartful truth-telling. After all, it is so much easier for Senate Republicans to slam the message and the messenger than to deal with the underlying consequences of conservative failure.

Here’s what Reid said on the Senate floor Wednesday:

…[M]y friend the Republican leader–and I will talk in more detail in a few minutes–is complaining about a tax of one-half of 1 percent–one-half of 1 percent on people who make more than $1 million a year to pay for a program that would stop teachers from being laid off and rehire some of the teachers who have been laid off.

The massive layoffs we have had in America today of course are rooted in the last administration. It is very clear that private sector jobs have been doing fine. It is the public sector jobs where we have lost huge numbers. That is what this legislation is all about. It is unfortunate my friend the Republican leader is complaining about that.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell took umbrage earlier today at the “private sector jobs have been doing fine” comment. The Hill newspaper reported:

“For Democrats the solution [to the jobs crisis], apparently, is to increase the number of people who work for the government,” McConnell said from the floor. “My good friend the majority leader made this pretty clear yesterday when he said the private sector is ‘doing just fine’ and that the president’s latest stimulus is focused on government jobs instead.”

Right-wing bloggers have piled on, such as Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey’s flippant dismissal of Reid’s comment as “shilling for funding of bureaucrats.”

Here are the facts: From January to September of this year, the economy created 1.2 million jobs in the private sector. That’s not “just fine” by any stretch of the imagination: That works out to fewer than 139,000 new jobs a month. Economist Heidi Shierholz at the Economic Policy Institute estimated earlier this month that in order to bring the labor force back to where it was just before the recession hit, the economy would have to produce 400,000 jobs a month every month for the next four years.

Still, a private sector that is creating on average about 4,600 jobs every day looks “just fine” when placed alongside state and local governments, which Demos points out are hemorrhaging jobs at the rate of 1,000 a day—393,000 local government and 47,000 state government jobs wiped off the books since January.

More than a quarter of those lost local government jobs are education-related. Sen. Robert Menendez, R-N.J., the sponsor of the teacher’s and first responder’s bill, says that overall nearly 300,000 education jobs have been lost since 2008, and state and local budget crisis will put as many as 280,000 teacher jobs at risk in the coming school year.

Of the funding in the bill, $30 billion would flow to state and local governments to head off those layoffs and to put back to work some of the teachers who lost their jobs in the past year. As our joint report with the National Education Association found, austerity budgets passed by state and local governments are forcing massive cuts to programs ranging from early childhood education to extra-curricular and special needs, and are leading to ballooning class sizes that undermine efforts to raise student performance.

McConnell also accuses Reid and the Democrats of deliberately crafting the bill so that Republicans can’t support it, by linking it to a tax surcharge on millionaires and billionaires. Actually, this makes perfect sense. The point of a bill such as this one would be to add liquidity and demand to the economy. More net public sector employment means more economic activity to support the private sector growth that everyone claims to want. Legislation that would protect teacher jobs that is “paid for” by budget cuts or layoffs elsewhere misses the point. And keeping teachers on the job is essential if we are going to have a well-educated, globally competitive workforce in the future.

The bill to protect teacher and first-responder jobs offers what should be an easy choice between addressing the suffering of overcrowded classrooms and riskier streets, and keeping the richest 1 percent of the country from feeling so much as a pin-prick in their income (0.5 percent of their earnings above $1 million). Except this is apparently not such as easy choice for conservatives who have so uncompromisingly compromised themselves to the bidding of the Wall Street class. They are apparently fine with lashing out at the choice of words of one man rather than honestly addressing the problems of the 99 percent of Americans who are suffering from the continuing effects of conservative obstruction.

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