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Opinion: Time for Congress to Put Up or Shut Up on Jobs

Rancho Bernardo resident Charlie Williams discusses the decline of the middle class and what Congress must do to reverse this trend.

By Charlie Williams                   

The January jobs report showed solid growth in private-sector payroll for the first time in several years. We have had unambiguously positive employment growth, according to a Feb. 3 Yahoo! Finance article by Daniel Gross. The economy added 243,000 payroll jobs in January and the unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent. That trend is reflected in the sustained private-sector job growth figures over the past 23 consecutive months.

Even with this good news of shrinking unemployment figures, we need to continue on the path toward job growth if this trend is to continue. President Obama warned Congress in his State of the Union address that the basic American promise is at risk if Congress does not act. The president spoke of the growing economic inequality American workers are facing today, which hinders economic recovery efforts. He urged Congress to do more to preserve the basic American dream, which was built and flourished on a thriving middle class.

It has become quite obvious over these past few years that the American middle class is at risk, and income inequality is one of the biggest threats. Attacks on union workers by city, state and federal lawmakers and rhetoric of would-be presidential candidates are prime examples of the cause of middle-class decline.

Workers are being blamed for most of our economic woes. Be it educators, firefighters, police or factory workers who want to be represented by a union, the war on private and public-sector workers does nothing to help our economic recovery efforts. Depriving workers of livable wages and benefits while piling on profits and tax cuts for the wealthy is a formula for a failed economy. Workers didn’t cause our economy to go belly up; it was greedy, powerful Wall Street types that caused our economy to crash, and sadly we rewarded them with huge amounts of our tax dollars to recover their losses.

Many of the same politicians in office today are the very ones who helped Wall Street and the past administration destroy our economy. The last two Bush years showed an alarming decline in employment numbers. High unemployment figures under Bush continued right into the first month Obama took office, with 750,000 losing their jobs. Fortunately, that trend started to reverse under President Obama’s leadership in only four short months after taking office, and for the most part has continued in that direction ever since. Over the past 23 months, we have witnessed solid job growth, though much is yet to be done in order to continue that trend.

The jobs bill that Obama sent to Congress is a good start but will likely never be adopted by the House or even taken up by Republican committee chairs. Yet there is hope that some aspects of the bill will be adopted, such as a business tax reform provision and ending the Bush tax cuts for the super wealthy, as Congress originally promised. The president has just called for business tax reform and Congress has approved the payroll tax cut extension he requested. Congressional Republicans had previously demanded budget cuts as a condition of their support for the payroll tax cut extension, but relented and threw their support for the extension without conditions. That is a good start, but there is still a long way to go.

New home sales are rebounding yet bank foreclosures continue to mount up for current homeowners. Progress toward curtailing home foreclosures remains in doubt, though Congress must address that issue and provide help to struggling homeowners who are in trouble as home prices devalue and markets shrink. If Congress can bail out the big banks and Wall Street, it should bail out homeowners. That would do far more toward a true rebound of the economy, and that would be good news for homeowners and businesses alike.

New homes and reselling of existing homes mean new appliances, new furnishings for the home and all the things that make a home livable. That translates to more job opportunities for the millions now unemployed, just like the bailout of our auto industry, which provided hundreds of thousands of new jobs for unemployed auto workers. It also added many thousands of jobs to workers who manufacture parts for those autos. Bailing out Wall Street and the big banks did little to nothing toward stimulating job growth, while government investment in saving the auto industry worked very well.

America is at the crossroads of continuing to move forward or going in reverse again with more and more budget cuts that lead to growing unemployment lines, further crippling any hope for economic recovery. The Republican-led Congress promised in the 2010 election that if elected, job growth would be their No. 1 goal, yet no jobs bill has even been introduced from that side of the aisle. The job market is indeed growing, yet it still needs congressional attention and now is the time to put up or shut up. American voters will be watching, and they do remember campaign promises—especially on Election Day.

Charlie Williams is chairman, Alliance for Retired Americans Field Mobilization Committee, and former Midwest states political director for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union.

Ann W. March 02, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Republicans released their most recent jobs bill last October called "Jobs Through Growth Act." Sadly, any bill they produce (whether it be related to jobs or the budget) is never brought to the Senate floor for a vote by Leader Reid. With an eye on the election, Reid is careful to set aside House bills that might poorly reflect on his party's ability to improve the lives of the American people. If pro-growth policies were a priority for President Obama, he would not have turned down the Keystone Pipeline; even former President Bill Clinton supports this job-producing natural gas project, as does union leadership. So, in my view, Congress has "put up" but the Senate has "shut them down." Thankfully, one issue Republican and Democrat voters are united is their distaste for awarding huge bonuses to failed bankers and the CEOs of failed "green job" companies who received governement backed loans.
Monte March 05, 2012 at 07:34 AM
Claiming the "Jobs Through Growth Act" is a JOBS bill is like claiming that "enhanced interrogation" is an interviewing technique. The JTGA is just another Republican proposal for tax breaks for the wealthy that will supposedly trickle down and create jobs for the rest of us. Three decades of that bankrupt philosophy have contributed mightily to creating the economic conditions we are in today. The Keystone Pipeline is designed to ship oil to the Asian market not the American market. The only reason the Canadian oil companies are routing it through America is because building a pipeline across the Canadian Rockies is enormously more expensive than building one through the Great Plains. Let the Canadians deal with their own Exxon Valdez or BP catastrophe. Most of us in America have learned our lesson by now. Support for the pipeline by DINOs (Democrats In Name Only) like Bill Clinton isn't much of an endorsement. If you recall, it was Clinton who signed the repeal of Glass-Steagall, removing the last major obstacle holding back the looting of the financial markets by the big banks and Wall Street, precisely what occurred during the decade following repeal. Unions aren't perfect and one area where some of them can be shortsighted is in their willingness to sacrifice the environment for a handful of jobs. P.S. The Keystone Pipeline is a crude oil pipeline not a natural gas pipeline.
Ann W. March 05, 2012 at 08:44 PM
My bad on the the kind of pipeline, thank you for the correction. You and I both know that President OBama is really in favor of the pipeline but for now he has to appease environmentalists so they will come out and vote for him (he'll take care of those shortsighted unions after the election). As a survivalist, the president needs to be able to count on at least one sector of the vote because many of the other voting blocks who fell for his rhetoric the first time around will not be fooled twice.
Tony Padilla March 07, 2012 at 09:10 AM
Charlie William, attacks on unions by the far-right conservatives are the reasons jobs are disappearing. Union wages are livable wages for the American worker. Millionaires and billionaires send our jobs overseas to make bigger profit returns on the backs of slave wages to workers in other second and third world countries. These tycoons are not interested in helping America. But, now they are attacking the public sector workforce in the name of getting the government out of using tax dollars for the American workers. The extreme right wants tax dollars for the rich and powerful because they want to buy politicians for their benefit in terms of political contributions as payback to scale back decent jobs and wages causing a middle-class decline. You are right on the issue of bailing out homeowners as move toward a rebound of the economy but banks continue to mount on foreclosures. If the people pay attention to what Republican Presidential Candidates continue to promote, I hope they wake up and will give President Obama the opportunity in the November elections to continue to push affordable healthcare for seniors and promote the American worker force. It’s about Jobs, Jobs Jobs. Tony Padilla
AGorman March 13, 2012 at 08:40 AM
I too am hopeful but not optimistic about a jobs bill this year. The American people desperately need it but Washington gridlock will prevent any chance of a REAL jobs bill before the November election. The Republican "jobs bill" has it exactly backwards. We don't need Jobs Through Growth we need GROWTH THROUGH JOBS! The rich don't need jobs. They're doing fine, thanks. It's the poor and middle class that need jobs. The Republicans are working hard for the rich and powerful, especially when they've been paid via campaign contributions. Their support for the Keystone Pipeline is a great example. While the Republican PR machine claims this is a "jobs act" it's just doubletalk. Yes, it will create a few thousand jobs for a few years and maybe a few hundred jobs long term. However, we don't need hundreds of jobs or thousands of jobs, we need MILLIONS of jobs and the pipeline won't do it. WHY the Republicans are promoting this pipeline so strongly is even more telling. Every one of the 43 Republican Senators sponsoring the pipeline bill has taken large campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, averaging $500,000 each. The sole Democratic sponsor took $143,400 from big oil, this last proving you don't have to be Republican to sell out. However it does show that corruption is the RULE for Republicans and the EXCEPTION for Democrats. We need a REAL JOBS BILL desperately but the only way we'll get one is by taking back control of Congress this November.

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