Chattanooga Times Free Press Editorial: Bipartisan approval of jobs bill

Posted on February 25, 2010

The U.S. Senate approved a jobs bill Wednesday that is as notable for what it contains as it is for the manner in which it was passed. The $15 billion measure passed by a 70-28 vote in which 13 Republicans joined 55 Democrats and two independents voting in favor. Such bipartisanship regrettably has been absent lately in Washington, and its return seems to prove that difficult times sometimes can prompt consensus on legislation beneficial to the public.

    The bill has two important components. It gives employers a temporary exemption from payroll taxes through December for newly hired workers who have been unemployed 60 days or longer. In addition, it gives employers an additional $1,000 credit if new workers remain on the job for a full year. That certainly should encourage hiring. Moreover, the exemption will not harm the Social Security Trust fund. It will be reimbursed for the lost revenue.

    The bill also extends highway and mass transit programs through the end of the year and provides an infusion of funds for them just as the construction season starts. The jobs package now goes to the House, which late last year passed a far broader jobs bill. House Democrats could slow or even reject reconciliation of the two bills, but that would be perverse.

    The goal now should be to create jobs, not to make political points by holding jobs hostage. Respected economists say the tax credit could help create about 250,000 jobs in the short term. That, of course, won’t begin to end joblessness, but it could make a significant dent in unemployment in the hard-hit construction sector. House Democrats can demonstrate a willingness to work cooperatively across party lines and to prove their willingness to move forward on job creation by prompt reconciliation of the competing bills and by forwarding the result to the president.

    There certainly is a need to create jobs. Though there are signs that the economy is improving, those signals are far from universal. Unemployment, for example, remains around 10 percent or more in many parts of the country, but even that number is misleading. The economy has shed 8.2 million jobs since the recession started. The total number of jobs is now lower than it was in 2000.

    The unemployment rate for blacks is 16.5 percent, and about 50 percent higher for Latinos, according to the Labor Department. In addition, far too many Americans are so discouraged by the bleak job picture that they’ve simply quit looking for work and therefore are not included in official unemployment reports. Clearly, job creation is a top national priority and must remain so for some time to come.

    The White House and congressional Democrats want to meet that need. Both promise additional job legislation. If Wednesday’s bipartisan Senate vote is an indication, there are signs that future bills concerning such vital issues might receive a fair reception. If that proves the case, it would be welcome.

    It’s hard to pinpoint a catalyst for change in Washington, but newly elected GOP Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts played a featured role in the current instance. He voted with Democrats to allow the jobs bill to move forward and then joined 12 party colleagues — including Lamar Alexander of Tennessee — to approve it. There’s no certainty such bipartisanship will continue, but a nation desperately in need of thoughtful, fairminded congressional action certainly can hope that will be the case.