Bleeding Heartland is a community blog about Iowa politics: campaigns and elections, state government, social and environmental issues. Bleeding Heartland also weighs in on presidential policies and campaigns, federal legislation and what the Iowans in Congress are up to. Join our community, post your thoughts as comments or diaries, help keep our leaders honest and hold them accountable.
The Senate version of a bill designed to create jobs, support state budgets and extend various tax credits and benefit programs failed to overcome a Republican filibuster yesterday. Tom Harkin was among 56 members of the Democratic caucus who voted for the cloture motion (which would end debate on the bill), but Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut voted with all the Republicans present, including Chuck Grassley, to kill the bill (roll call here). Joan McCarter observed that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
voted yes, without changing his vote, signaling that this iteration of the bill is indeed dead.
Reid followed the vote by attempting to pass the emergency provisions of the bill, the "doc fix," unemployment benefits extension, and FMAP as well as the homebuyer tax credit, as separate bills under unanimous consent. McConnell objected to each, so we're stuck in further limbo.
Republicans who blocked this bill claim we should not be adding to the federal deficit. A spokesman for GOP enabler Ben Nelson laid out his views here. Ezra Klein pointed out a few glaring problems with the analysis: the federal budget can't start approaching balance with unemployment at 9 percent, polls show Americans are much more concerned about jobs than the deficit, and the current rate of economic recovery is "far, far too slow to really dent unemployment." Meanwhile, the same senators who claim to oppose adding to the deficit also oppose rolling back tax cuts or tax loopholes for the wealthy in order to pay for extending unemployed benefits, state fiscal aid and tax credits.
[T]he President didn't want to blame Bush and the GOP for the deficit, and he didn't want to sufficiently defend the stimulus and explain to people that they had a choice between a Great Depression and a bigger deficit. [...] If the public understood that the deficit was a) mostly caused by Bush, and b) not nearly as important as staving off a Depression and creating jobs, the GOP would be facing far more pressure not to launch these filibusters at all.
Perhaps no jobs bill passed this week would alter the economy enough to affect the November elections, but if we accept current unemployment levels and don't pass additional fiscal aid to the states, the economy may still be very weak leading up to the 2012 election.
The U.S. Senate gave final approval to a small jobs bill today by a vote of 68-29. Eleven Republicans and the Senate's two independents joined 55 Democrats (including Iowa's Tom Harkin) to pass the bill. The only Democrat to vote no was Ben Nelson of Nebraska (roll call here). The motion to invoke cloture on this jobs bill passed the Senate on Monday by a 60-31 vote, with six Republicans voting with all Democrats but Ben Nelson (roll call here). Senator Chuck Grassley voted with the Republicans who tried to filibuster the bill on Monday and with those who opposed the bill today. From the Washington Post:
The centerpiece of the bill is a new program giving companies a break from paying Social Security taxes for the remainder of 2010 on any new workers they hire who had been unemployed for at least 60 days. Employers would also get a $1,000 tax credit for each of those workers who stays on the payroll for at least one year.
Aside from that program, the measure includes a one-year extension of the law governing federal transportation funding, and would transfer $20 billion into the highway trust fund. The bill also extends a tax break allowing companies to write off equipment purchases, and expands the Build America Bonds program, which helps state and local governments secure financing for infrastructure projects.
Last month the Senate approved a similar jobs measure; Grassley voted no at that time as well. After the House made minor changes to the legislation, the bill had to clear the Senate again before going to the president's desk.
Most House Democrats support a larger job-creation bill with more money for infrastructure projects, but there may not be 60 votes in the Senate for such a measure.
The U.S. Senate passed a scaled-back jobs bill today by a 70-28 vote (roll call here). 57 of the 59 Senate Democrats voted for the bill; Ben Nelson of Nebraska voted no and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey was absent. 13 Republicans voted for the bill. Five of them helped Democrats break a Republican filibuster on Monday: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and the retiring Kit Bond of Missouri and George Voinovich of Ohio. Two Republicans who were absent for Monday's cloture vote also voted yes today: Orrin Hatch of Utah and Richard Burr of North Carolina. Six other Republicans tried to block this vote from going forward on Monday but turned around and voted for the bill today: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, George LeMieux of Florida, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Senate Democrats and the media are calling this a $15 billion jobs bill, but David Dayen notes, it's really a $35 billion measure: "the extension of the Highway Trust Fund would add $20 billion for infrastructure projects, but because of the way it's financed, through a fund shift, it doesn't count as an expense."
In addition to the highway fund money, the main features of the jobs bill are a tax credit for small businesses that hire new workers, "Build America Bonds" that help state and local governments to borrow money, and a provision to allow small businesses to write off more expenses.
Senator Chuck Grassley voted against today's bill and against the cloture motion on Monday. He and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus had agreed on a different jobs bill, which Senate Majority Leader Reid abandoned. In a statement submitted to the Senate record on Monday, Grassley slammed Reid's "disregard for bipartisanship" and noted that tax-extending provisions in the Baucus-Grassley bill had enjoyed broad support from both parties in the past.
The House passed a larger jobs bill in December that included many of the tax-extending provisions Reid omitted from the Senate bill.
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moodys.com, said last week that Reid's jobs bill was "a good first step" but not nearly large enough to address the unemployment problem:
A failure to provide additional funding to struggling states, for example, would lead to job losses that would "overwhelm" all the other job-creating efforts being tried, he said. And while the Schumer-Hatch tax credit would create between 200,000 and 300,000 new jobs, Zandi estimated, that number is a drop in the bucket relative to the roughly 11 million new jobs needed to get the country back to pre-recession jobless levels.
Reid has promised to introduce more jobs-creating legislation soon. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will try to move quickly on the bill the Senate just approved, Roll Call reported.
Still, I supported passage of the stimulus bill. In late 2008 and early 2009 the U.S. economy was losing 600,000 to 700,000 jobs per month. Something had to be done. On balance, the stimulus did much more good than bad. Economists agree it has saved or created a lot of jobs:
Just look at the outside evaluations of the stimulus. Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody's Economy.com. They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these estimates to be conservative.
Two and a half million jobs isn't enough to compensate for the 8 million jobs lost since this recession began, but it's a start.
Democrats on the House Labor and Education Committee released an ad that lists various popular stimulus bill provisions, such as increasing Pell Grants and teacher pay. The ad uses the tag line, "There's an act for that," naming the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act at the end. I don't think it's effective, because the ad doesn't include the word "stimulus." Few people will realize that the ARRA refers to the stimulus bill.
Bleeding Heartland readers, how do you view the stimulus one year later?
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and ranking Republican Chuck Grassley released a draft jobs bill yesterday that would cost about $85 billion. It "would give employers a payroll tax exemption for hiring those who have been unemployed for at least 60 days. The bill would also provide a $1,000 income tax credit for new workers retained for 52 weeks." Click here to read a copy of the draft bill.
A bipartisan jobs bill would be great if that bill would create a significant number of new jobs. Unfortunately, analysts agree that many of the measures in the Baucus-Grassley bill would do little on that front. More details are after the jump.
This month Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan predicted that the Senate will pass a stand-alone energy bill to expand energy production in various ways without capping greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, you can count on the Senate to throw more money toward boosting fossil fuel production than renewable energy.
Last year dozens of environmental groups focused their staff energy and mobilized volunteers to advocate for a sweeping climate change bill. This year we need to focus resources on where the real battle lies. Instead of urging citizens to sign petitions and call their senators about cap-and-trade, which is looking like a dead letter, we need to fight for the strongest possible renewable electricity standard in the energy bill.
One complicating factor: some environmental groups have received grants to support advocacy on climate change legislation. I would encourage charitable foundations and other large donors to be flexible about how such money is spent. Cap-and-trade is going nowhere. Let environmentalists focus on the real fights in Congress this year.
Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread.
Final note: Murkowski is at war with the EPA even though she represents Alaska, one of the states most affected by global warming. Is she stupid, corrupt or both?
Following up on the diary I posted this morning, this post compiles links to Bleeding Heartland's coverage of national politics from July through December 2009. Health care reform was again the number one topic. I wish there had been a happy ending.
The House of Representatives approved the Jobs for Main Street Act yesterday by a vote of 217 to 212. No Republicans supported the bill; the nay votes included 38 Democrats and 174 Republicans (roll call here). Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack and Leonard Boswell all voted for the bill, while Republicans Tom Latham and Steve King voted with the rest of their caucus. (This year has been a refreshing change from 2005-2007, when Boswell was often among 30-some House Democrats voting with Republicans on the issue of the day.)
Obama proposed new spending for highway and bridge construction, for small business tax cuts and for retrofitting millions of homes to make them more energy-efficient. He said he wanted to extend economic stimulus programs to keep unemployment insurance from expiring for millions of out-of-work Americans and to help laid-off workers keep their health insurance. He proposed an additional $250 apiece in stimulus spending for seniors and veterans and aid to state and local governments to discourage them from laying off teachers, police officers and firefighters.
Making homes more energy efficient would not only create jobs, but would produce huge collateral benefits, as A Siegel explains at the Get Energy Smart Now blog. Money that homeowners and business owners save on utility bills is money they can spend on other goods and services.
Populist Caucus Chairman Bruce Braley (IA-01) and House Trade Working Group Chairman Mike Michaud (ME-02) wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer today, urging them to make sure the jobs bill contains a strong "Buy American" provision. From a press release Braley's office issued:
"Recently, as America has suffered the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, unemployment has risen and is now around 10 percent," the letter reads. "We believe that the shipment of American jobs overseas is a factor in this rising unemployment. If we are going to pass a strong job creation bill then it only makes sense to include strong Buy American provisions, to further ensure that the jobs created as a result of this legislation are created within the United States.
"We have an obligation to create jobs in America. While some would argue that Buy American is nothing more than a trade protectionist label, it is clear that these provisions would equate to greater investment, and greater job-creation, within the U.S. In addition, Buy American provisions are perfectly legal under current trade agreements and many other nations use similar mechanisms to protect their domestic manufacturers. Therefore, we feel that it is entirely appropriate that this language be included in any upcoming job-creation measure, and we believe that this provision is essential to creating and retaining American jobs.
If the upcoming jobs bill contains aid to state and local governments, as the stimulus bill did, that could help Iowa legislators close the gap in the fiscal year 2011 budget. Republicans keep complaining about Iowa Democrats using federal transfers to balance the state budget, but they ignore the reality that deep cuts in state budgets are themselves a drag on the economy. State employee layoffs have a ripple effect in the private sector. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has estimated that without additional federal fiscal relief, "states will have to take steps to eliminate deficits for state fiscal year 2011 that will likely take nearly a full percentage point off the Gross Domestic Product. That, in turn, could cost the economy 900,000 jobs next year."
Many Iowans will be leaving work or school early today, or perhaps not going in at all, as the season's first big winter blast rolls in. Here's plenty of reading to keep you busy if you are stuck at home.
Global news first: The United National Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen opened yesterday. To follow news from the proceedings, I'm reading the team of Mother Jones bloggers in Copenhagen. The Open Left blog will also post regular updates from Natasha Chart and Friends of the Earth staff who are on the ground. If you prefer a mainstream media perspective, check out The Climate Pool on Facebook, which is a collaboration among major news organizations.
The state could base its spending on a multi-year average, such as the previous three years, or five years or seven years, said Jon Muller, president of Muller Consulting Inc., a public policy and business development consulting firm based in Des Moines.
"The way it's always worked, when times are really good, we increase spending and we cut taxes," Muller said. "And when times are bad, there's pressure to increase taxes and decrease spending. And that all happens when the demand for government is at its highest," Muller said.
The multi-year idea would flip, he said.
"In good times you would be squirreling money at way a little at a time. And in bad times, you could continue to increase spending to service the growing demands of a recession."
It would require state lawmakers to not touch the reserves, even in times of plenty. But it would also reduce the need to tap into reserves just to get by during rainy days, the advisers said.
Regarding budget cuts, the Newton Independent reports here on a "plan to reorganize the Iowa Department of Human Services operations under two deputy directors, six rather than nine divisions, five rather than eight service areas, more part-time offices and the elimination of 78 currently vacant positions" (hat tip to Iowa Independent). Click this link for more details about the proposed restructuring.
On the political front, John Deeth analyzes possible changes the Democratic National Committee is considering for the presidential nomination process. Jerome Armstrong had a good idea the DNC won't implement: ban caucuses everywhere but Iowa. No other state derives the party-building benefits of caucuses, but just about every state that uses caucuses for presidential selection has lower voter participation than would occur in a primary.
I haven't written much on health care reform lately, because recent developments are so depressing. Our best hope was using the budget reconciliation process to pass a strong bill in the Senate with 51 votes (or 50 plus Joe Biden). Now that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has taken reconciliation off the table, we're left with a variety of bad compromises to get to 60 votes in the Senate. I am not convinced the final product will be any improvement over the status quo. It will certainly be worse for millions of Americans required to buy overpriced private health insurance. If there's a quicker way to neutralize the Democrats' advantage with young voters, I don't know what it is.
Speaking of things that are depressing, John Lennon was shot dead 29 years ago today. Daily Kos user noweasels remembers him and that night. Although Paul's always been my favorite Beatle, I love a lot of John's work too. Here's one of his all-time best:
Share any relevant thoughts or your own favorite Lennon songs in the comments.