This week the Department of Labor reported figures for the month of February showing that unemployment was unchanged at 9.7 percent. The economy lost 36,000 jobs and the average workweek decreased. There's no doubt that American families continue to struggle.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) took to the Senate floor today saying, "Today is a big day because only 36,000 people lost their jobs today. Which is really good." I don't think that anyone without a job right now would think that 36,000 lost jobs is a good thing. Hopefully, we have turned the corner and we will see job growth this spring, Congress, however, hasn't been much help.
Despite high unemployment, Congress continues to be distracted by the highly partisan healthcare debate. President Obama, despite campaign pledges to the contrary, is now insisting that Democrats pass his healthcare reform bill with a bare majority.
This 50 plus one strategy is known on Capitol Hill as "reconciliation." This is a process used specifically to make modifications that reduce the deficit. The President is correct in saying that Republicans have frequently used this process to pass major legislation. In each case, however, the legislation complied with the rules of the House and Senate that govern reconciliation bills.
In order to start this reconciliation process the House must first pass the Senate's healthcare bill. This legislation is infamous for passing Christmas Eve on a strictly partisan vote and for containing state-specific deals like the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase.
The Senate bill would have to become law before any reconciliation bill can be considered. The President would sign the bill based on a promise that it would get "fixed" later. That promise, however, could be very hard to keep. At the end of the day, a bill that no one in Washington seems to really like would be the law of the land.
To get the Senate bill passed, Democratic leadership is engaging in some strenuous arm-twisting and questionable deal making. One Democrat who voted against the healthcare bill last year had his brother nominated for a federal judgeship just this week. This bill would change one-sixth of the American economy. If it's the right thing to do, then I think it should stand on its own merits, without backroom deals and arm-twisting.
All of the moving pieces and changing votes are enough to make one's head spin. Unfortunately, this highly partisan fight is being waged while many are facing the very real hardship of unemployment. Congress is spending most of its time and energy on a bill that will do nothing for job growth. In fact, it would actually make it more difficult to hire new workers by raising taxes per employee by $2,000. The last thing we need to do right now is make it harder or more expensive to hire new employees.
The agenda past the healthcare debate doesn't hold much hope for those without employment either. The Congressional Budget Office just analyzed the President's proposed $90 billion fee on financial firms that took bailout money. They found that the new fee would have a small effect on the firms and that mainly customers, investors, and employees would shoulder the cost.
One of the many reasons why I opposed the bailout was that some firms were forced to take the money, whether they needed it or not. Many have already paid back the bailout with interest, but they would still be subject to a fee that the President claims is intended to pay back bailout money. The people that will really end up paying are the investors saving for retirement, the employees hoping for a pay raise, and the small businesses trying to get a loan.
In a time of high unemployment, we can't afford to have a Congress that is focused on anything other than job growth. The government is no substitute for a strong private sector. It is the private sector creates wealth and that funds our government. We cannot endlessly pay for the federal government with new debt. It is not the size of our government that makes us the wealthiest nation in the world. It is a dynamic private sector that leads the world in innovation and industry. More importantly, that's also where jobs come from.