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Is Congress Quietly Set for a Jobs Compromise? Is Congress Quietly Set for a Jobs Compromise?

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Economy / ECONOMY

Is Congress Quietly Set for a Jobs Compromise?

Architects of both parties' jobs plans talked up their aisle-crossing potential in interviews. “There clearly are opportunities for us to cooperate and work together toward the goal of creating jobs,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.(Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

photo of Jim Tankersley
May 5, 2011

Senate Republicans and House Democrats both released comprehensive plans for job creation this week. That’s surprising by itself. Even more surprising: There's a decent amount the parties agree on.

Taken together, the provisions included in both the Democratic and Republican plans add up to what could well be a meaningful boost to an economy that is still not recovering as fast as either party would like. On Thursday, the government reported jobless claims jumped 10 percent to 474,000, the highest levels since last summer. Economists are predicting Friday’s report will show the economy added 185,000 jobs in April, slightly weaker than the job growth the month before.

So the jobs plans form a blueprint for a bill that could attract bipartisan and bicameral support on Capitol Hill: one that would include simplifying the tax code, closing loopholes, and reducing rates across the board; making tax incentives for research and development permanent; improving training programs for laid-off workers; and incentivizing deployment of natural gas, the fuel attracting the most support from both parties as an alternative to oil.

 

Architects of both jobs plans talked up their aisle-crossing potential in interviews. “There clearly are opportunities for us to cooperate and work together toward the goal of creating jobs,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who re-launched Democrats’ “Make it in America” jobs platform on Wednesday.

Added Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the driving force behind the Senate Republican jobs plan released on Tuesday, “There’s no reason that some of these common-sense proposals can’t be moved right away with bipartisan support.”

Democrats and Republicans have struggled in recent months to find any consensus on the issue that polls show voters care most about. Though the 2010 midterms were almost entirely focused on jobs, the ensuing Congress has barely focused on them. Instead, the House and Senate have consumed themselves with battles over cutting the federal budget and keeping the government running.

Both sides tried to frame that fight in terms of jobs—Republicans said spending cuts would create them, Democrats warned it could destroy them—but when President Obama and GOP leaders agreed on a package of cuts, House Speaker John Boehner’s office pointedly declined to predict the measure would create any jobs on any set timetable.

The philosophical differences that drove the budget fight are still front and center in the jobs plans released this week.

Senate Republicans lead theirs with several measures to restrict spending, including a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution and immediate cuts to entitlement programs. The plan also includes several measures to open international trade, such as ratifying a trio of pending trade pacts, along with curbing federal regulations and reducing taxes on dividends and capital gains.

House Democrats focused on new spending to repair and rebuild infrastructure such as highways, rail lines, and high-speed Internet; to leverage government procurement to boost domestic manufacturing; to reform education; and to protect domestic exporters by retaliating against countries such as China that take steps to keep their currency value artificially low.

For all that divergence, though, there are several key areas of agreement—starting with a need to reinvigorate an economy struggling under the weight of high gasoline prices and a still-nightmarish housing market.

“We’re in a stall,” Portman said. “You can’t call it a slight recession, because we have slight growth. You can’t call it a recovery because we don’t have the job growth you’d want … so I think it’s time for a shot in the arm.” Hoyer agreed: “We need to continue, we think, investing and creating jobs.”

Where to start? A few ideas, shared in the parties' jobs plans, seem like easy compromises: incentives for natural-gas powered vehicles, streamlined training programs to help displaced workers transition into new fields, and permanent status for an R&D tax credit that always gets renewed on a temporary basis. (And, importantly, offsetting all those steps by cutting spending or closing tax loopholes.)

The biggest potential boost is by far the hardest: comprehensive tax reform. The details of which deductions to cut and how far to lower rates are tricky to work out, but Hoyer and Portman share a desire to work on them.

A cleaner tax code would be more economically efficient and provide some long-term certainty for job creators. It would also be a cornerstone of a longer-term push to boost U.S. competitiveness in the increasingly fierce global economy—“a game plan,” as Hoyer puts it, for job growth far beyond the next election cycle. Both parties can surely agree that no such plan exists today.

jtankersley@nationaljournal.com; Twitter: @jimtankersley

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