Iowans split on party lines over bill on federal job training

On Friday the U.S. House approved a bill that would reorganize nearly three dozen federal job training programs into one fund providing job training money to states. Iowa's four representatives split on party lines.

H.R. 803, the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act, could have been a bipartisan effort. President Barack Obama said during his 2012 State of the Union address,

"I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that from now on, people...have one program, one website, and one place to go for all the information and help they need.  It's time to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system that puts people to work."

But House Democrats boycotted the committee markup of the bill earlier this month.

The bill, authored by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), would reauthorize the Clinton-era Workforce Investment Act by consolidating 35 federal job-training programs into a single block grant.

Republicans have touted the bill as following through on a proposal by President Obama in his 2012 State of the Union address, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) highlighted the measure in a high-profile speech last month as part of his "Making Life Work" agenda for the GOP.

But Democrats and advocacy groups say the GOP consolidation plan goes too far and that Republicans on the committee made no attempt to work with Democrats on what had previously been a bipartisan issue.

"We didn't come to this decision lightly," Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.), John Tierney (D-Mass.) and Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) said in a statement. "Unfortunately, we viewed boycotting this proceeding as our only alternative after many months of repeatedly requesting bipartisan negotiations and being rebuffed by committee Republicans." [...]

"The Republican bill has scant support and has garnered significant opposition," said the three Democrats, who have sponsored their own legislation to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act. "Democrats can only come to the conclusion that this bill is being advanced for political reasons, not to make the workforce investment system work better. It would have been a dereliction of duty to continue to participate."

House leaders brought the bill to the floor on March 15. Pete Kasperowicz reported for The Hill,

"If you need job training, the SKILLS Act eliminates bureaucratic hurdles, such as first requiring you to work on your resume and develop an individual employment plan, so that you can access the training that you need right away," Cantor said.

The bill would give states new flexibility to determine standards that job training providers must meet and lets them work with community colleges to provide training. It would also reauthorize WIA, and require that state and local workforce investment board members, which are established to help implement WIA, ensure that two-thirds of their membership is composed of employers. [...]

"Youth, older workers, farm workers, workers with disabilities, English-language learners, veterans, low-income workers are amongst those who face the greatest barriers to employment," Education and the Workforce Committee ranking member George Miller (D-Calif.) said. "Yet programs that serve these populations are the very programs targeted by the Republicans." [...]

Miller and others also argued that the bill would freeze federal spending on the Workforce Investment Fund for seven years, which some said it tantamount to a cut.

These complaints matched those of the White House, which said on Wednesday that the House bill would eliminate many programs needed by "vulnerable populations," and would freeze funding.

Democrats offered a substitute amendment that failed on a 227 to 192 vote (roll call). Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) supported the amendment. The entire House Republican caucus voted no, including Representatives Tom Latham (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04).

The House then considered a Democratic motion to recommit the bill with instructions. That motion included a minimum wage increase of 95 cents a year for three years, reaching $10.10 in 2014. Senator Tom Harkin recently introduced a bill with the same language in the Senate. House members rejected the motion to recommit by 233 votes to 184. Again, the Iowans split on party lines. In fact, every House Republican present voted against the motion, and all but six of the bluest Blue Dog Democrats voted for it.

On final passage, the SKILLS Act passed on a mostly party-line vote of 215 votes to 202. King and Latham supported the bill, while Braley and Loebsack opposed it.

I haven't seen any public comments on this issue from Braley, Loebsack, or Latham, but King's office sent out this press release on March 15 (emphasis in original).

King Votes for SKILLS Act

Washington, DC- Congressman Steve King released the following statement after voting in favor of the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act. The SKILLS Act streamlines the current bureaucratic maze of workforce development programs and creates a more accessible, user friendly job training program. Under the SKILLS Act, states and employers are empowered to help train a 21st century workforce, and unemployed Americans will now be able find a "one stop shop" to help get the training they need.

"In my construction business when I had a job opening, I was looking for specific expertise," said King. "Today there are 12 million Americans out of work but businesses can't find the right people to fill open positions. This gap will be narrowed by the SKILLS Act, which will successfully train and organize employers and job seekers so that both get what they need.  It will put power into the hands of state and local leaders instead of wasteful programs and bureaucracy. The last thing this country needs is jobs left unfilled because resources were untapped to fill them. I knew when running my own business and I still understand today how important it is for employers to be able to find the talent to effectively run their teams, and the SKILLS Act will do just that."

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee quickly sent out press releases that focused on Republicans voting against a minimum wage hike rather than for a job training bill. Here is the "Steve King" version that hit my in-box on March 15; identical text targeted Latham.

VOTE ALERT: Congressman King Just Rejected Minimum Wage Increase

Congressman Steve King just rejected a commonsense measure to increase the minimum wage.

Working families have gone without an increase in the minimum wage since 2009, and according to a Pew Research/USA Today poll last month, 71 percent of Americans favor increasing the minimum wage. The latest Census Bureau numbers show that income rose for the top fifth of American households last year while median income fell to a level that is 8 percent lower than pre-recession levels.

"In our country, it's not right when men and women work hard at a full-time job and can't earn enough to make ends meet or support their families, but Congressman King would rather chose Tea Party ideology than help hardworking families," said Emily Bittner of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "The people of Iowa work hard and play by the rules but they're getting squeezed by higher prices and lower earnings - and now Congressman King just said no to a commonsense way to put more money in their pockets: raise the minimum wage."

BACKGROUND

Congressman Steve King Voted Against Increasing the Minimum Wage from $7.25 to $10.10 Over Three Years. Upon enactment, the measure would have increased the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.20 within three months. A year from this date, the federal minimum wage would increase from $8.20 to $9.15. A year from this date, the federal minimum wage would increase to $10.10. (HR 803, Vote #74, 3/15/13)

Raising the Minimum Wage Would Benefit as Many as 30 Million Americans. According to the Economic Policy Institute, "Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by July 1, 2015, would raise the wages of about 30 million workers, who would receive over $51 billion in additional wages over the phase-in period." [Economic Policy Institute, 3/13/13]

·         Raising the Minimum Wage to $10.10 Would Generate 140,000 Net New Jobs. According to the Economic Policy Institute, "Across the phase-in period of the minimum-wage increase, GDP would increase by roughly $32.6 billion, resulting in the creation of approximately 140,000 net new jobs (and 284,000 job years) over that period." [Economic Policy Institute, 3/13/13]

Wealthiest Get Richer While Middle Class Income Shrinks, according to Census Bureau. "Income for the top fifth of American households rose by 1.6 percent last year...All households in the middle of the scale saw declines...The numbers helped drive an overall decline in income for the typical American family. Median household income after inflation fell to $50,054, a level that was 8 percent lower than in 2007, the year before the recession took hold." [New York Times, 9/12/12]

As usual, the DCCC won't hold the six House Democrats who voted against this minimum wage increase accountable. On the contrary, those Democrats will benefit from six-figure independent expenditures by the DCCC, because they're on the committee's "Frontline" list of vulnerable incumbents. This kind of farce is one reason I haven't donated to the DCCC in a long time.

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