WASHINGTON — An ostensible bipartisan agreement on a jobs bill yesterday lasted just a few hours before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) tossed it in favor of a scaled-down version. The new proposal is considerably less costly and scraps a series of corporate giveaways that appeared unlikely to create jobs.
Finance Committee chair Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) struck a deal Thursday with the committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), on a $85 billion jobs bill.
Hours later, Reid replaced it with a $15 billion alternative that he called a “simplified, focused bill” that focuses solely on “putting millions of Americans back to work.”
Reid’s new proposal eliminates concessions that experts say were irrelevant to the goal of creating jobs. Among these is a corporate tax cut that exempted businesses from paying a 6.2 percent Social Security tax for new employees’ salaries.
Pulling no punches, the New York Times decried the original bill’s reliance on corporate tax cuts as “pathetic,” calling it an example of “how not to write a jobs bill.” “[A]bout half of the proposal had nothing to do with new jobs,” declared the newspaper’s editorial board.
“We’re skeptical that it’s going to be a big job creator,” National Federation of Independent Business’s tax counsel Bill Rys told The Associated Press. While acknowledging that tax breaks in hard economic times can be helpful, Rys said that “in terms of being an incentive to hire a lot of workers, we’re skeptical.”
Signaling the low returns tax breaks tend to have on encouraging businesses to hire new workers, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office calculations show the provision would create a mere 18 full-time jobs for each $1 million in tax cuts.
Reid also scrapped $31 billion in tax cuts on income, sales, property and business research and development — an important provision used to court Republicans. This provision, too, held few prospects for slashing unemployment.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner indicated the idea could be helpful but admitted that such cuts won’t make a serious dent in unemployment, which could only be seriously impacted by growth in national demand for goods. Speaking before the House Ways and Means Committee, he limited its likely impact to providing “a little more spark” to ensure “we’re creating more jobs than we otherwise would.
John Challenger, president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a consulting group that analyzes work force issues, concurred. “You can’t force companies to create jobs if they don’t need them,” he told McClatchy, adding that boosting employment is “more about creating demand.”
Another provision Reid has removed is $10 billion in renewed Medicare repayments, which New York Times said merely existed “so doctors wouldn’t face a pay cut.”
The updated proposal relies on aid to small businesses, investments in infrastructure and more tax incentives for job creation, Reid said in a statement.
Democratic lawmakers complained to Reid
President Obama nevertheless backed the bill and the bipartisan arrangement while it lasted. “The President is gratified to see the Senate moving forward in a bipartisan manner on steps to help put Americans back to work,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Grassley slammed Reid’s decision, claiming he “pulled the rug out” from bipartisanship and chose instead to “go partisan and blame Republicans.”
Reid said that “[e]ach piece of this [new] bill enjoys bipartisan support, and I look forward to swift action on this measure that will create and save dependable jobs.”
A Democratic leadership aide reportedly told The Hill that Reid opted to strip the tax extenders after learning that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to support the legislation. The aide also refuted that Reid’s decision was a rebuke to bipartisanship and pointed out that he has maintained its core job-creating components.
A Senate Democratic aide added that Reid “saw the writing on the wall” and scrapped it on the belief that it “was about to get bogged down,” in comments made to Talking Points Memo.
But Politico reported that a Democratic aide said the earlier version was scrapped amidst concerns that Republicans would use it to attack Democrats in November’s midterm elections. “Grassley and three to four Republicans would have voted for it, but all the other Republicans would have beaten the living shit out of us, claiming the bill was too bloated,” the aide reportedly said.