Syria Is Just the Latest Reason Why D.C. Won’t Do Anything About Jobs

This fall will be incredibly busy for a Congress that has problems getting things done. The unemployed will have to wait.

Job seekers at a job fair in Miami Lakes, Fla., Aug., 14, 2013.
National Journal
Matt Berman
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Matt Berman
Sept. 6, 2013, 4:39 a.m.

The un­em­ploy­ment rate didn’t change much from Ju­ly to Au­gust, with 7.3 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans un­em­ployed for the month of Au­gust, and 169,000 jobs ad­ded in the month. The num­bers may be im­prov­ing a bit, down from 8.1 per­cent un­em­ploy­ment a year ago, but it’s hap­pen­ing slowly. And there’s no reas­on to ex­pect Wash­ing­ton to step in and speed things up.

Since 2009, Con­gress hasn’t passed ma­jor le­gis­la­tion aimed at help­ing to shrink the na­tion’s massive pool of un­em­ployed. Even without any out­side events, there isn’t much reas­on to think now would be any dif­fer­ent. But, as it turns out, Con­gress faces a massive num­ber of obstacles be­fore even think­ing about jobs.

First and fore­most is Syr­ia. When Con­gress comes back in ses­sion next week from its sum­mer break, the first or­der of busi­ness will be fig­ur­ing out wheth­er to au­thor­ize the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quest for the use of force in Syr­ia. As the last week has shown, that’ll be any­thing but easy. For all the plat­it­udes from mem­bers about how this is one of the most dif­fi­cult de­cisions they’ll ever have to make, well, right now it’s ac­tu­ally kind of look­ing that way. 

Con­gress doesn’t get a re­prieve after Syr­ia. The cur­rent fisc­al year ends on Septem­ber 30, at which point Con­gress will need to pass a new budget or tem­por­ary fund­ing to keep the gov­ern­ment from shut­ting down. Some Re­pub­lic­ans say they won’t sup­port any new money without de­fund­ing Obama­care, which could just com­plic­ate that task fur­ther. Then there’s the debt ceil­ing, ex­pec­ted to be hit around mid-Oc­to­ber. That’s an­oth­er spot where, if Con­gress doesn’t act, the gov­ern­ment could shut down.

Oh, and re­mem­ber im­mig­ra­tion re­form? The 11 mil­lion-plus un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants in the United States surely do. The House still has a huge amount of work to do on com­pre­hens­ive re­form if any­thing is go­ing to pass through Con­gress this year.

So is there a place for ac­tion on jobs here? Prob­ably not. All of these is­sues, from Syr­ia to the budget, are likely to be not only time-con­sum­ing but also di­vis­ive. Con­gress looks set to run through a series of fast-mov­ing crises this au­tumn. It’s hard to see any way the 7.3 per­cent un­em­ploy­ment rate will get much of a look.

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