John Baer: Jobs bill an uncertain call

President Obama's $447 billion jobs proposal goes to the Senate for a vote this week. (Associated Press)
President Obama's $447 billion jobs proposal goes to the Senate for a vote this week. (Associated Press)
Posted: October 10, 2011

UNDERSTANDING Washington (a task best-suited to Sisyphus) is always a challenge, but I think I know where this jobs bill is headed.

If your focus lately has been on the Phillies/Eagles - another task akin to rolling a boulder up a hill - you may not know that President Obama's $447 billion American Jobs Act is slated for a vote in the Senate this week and that parts of it could face debate in the House.

This is the bill promising millions of jobs, infrastructure repairs and tax cuts, or, as Republican leaders call it (since it hikes taxes on the rich), "class warfare."

The president says it's a must-have. The White House says it means $1.3 billion and 17,900 jobs for infrastructure in Pennsylvania. And consensus says Republicans reject it.

The backdrop, of course, is all politics, with Democrats claiming that GOP opposition is rooted in Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's "top priority" of making Obama a one-term president.

But that sort of thinking suggests that those we elect are more interested in their jobs than in ours. You don't think that's possible, do you?

I do. As a veteran cynic, I'm convinced that both parties put partisanship before service, that anything positive coming from Congress is either coincidental to political ends or related to disaster relief.

And it is precisely this combination of politics and disaster that makes me think parts of this bill will pass. Here's why:

We have a disaster: 14 million out of work, 9.1 percent unemployment (11 percent in Philly) and the worst credit rating in modern history, with no real signs of recovery. We have politics: the prez and Congress face re-election next year.

All that remains is figuring what's best for everybody's re-election chances.

The forecasting group Macroeconomic Advisors says that Obama's bill means 1.3 million new jobs; megafirm Moody's chief economist Mark Zandi says 1.9 million jobs and 2 percent growth.

Adding that many jobs isn't a cure-all (it would cut the unemployment rate by only 1 percent), but it isn't nothing, either.

So I figure that Republicans won't pass Obama's plan: Doesn't do much but up the prez's cred and tax the wealthy, a/k/a "job creators." I also figure that Republicans won't allow Obama to paint them as "do-nothings."

For example.

Republican U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, of Delaware County, says: "I'm not opposed to the idea of using legislative efforts to create jobs," but says that the president's plan is unwise because this is "not the time to be raising taxes."

Meehan calls a proposed surtax on those making $1 million or more an effort "to score political points," but says he likes parts of the plan tied to tax credits for hiring veterans and addressing infrastructure needs.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, of Bucks County, seems to be on the same page.

He tells me that "there are areas of agreement," citing tax credits for veterans, tax cuts for small business and infrastructure needs.

"I've called on both sides to immediately debate and pass those," he says.

So, the prescription for political survival seems to be infusions of targeted tax cuts for small business, some infrastructure stuff and protection of rich people.

You didn't really think that Congress (where, says the Center for Responsive Politics, half the members are millionaires) would raise taxes on those best-positioned to give the most to political campaigns?

And just to show that the fun never ends, tomorrow the president pushes his plan in Pittsburgh with his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. That's the group headed by GE boss Jeffrey Immelt. That's the GE that paid no federal income tax on profits of $14 billion. And that's another reason why I feel like Sisyphus.

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