With rare exception over the last year Republicans in Congress have said “No” to every major proposal from President Obama and Congressional Democrats. That changed for a brief moment Monday evening when a handful of Republican senators crossed party lines and put families and communities ahead of politics.
With tens of millions of Americans facing an uncertain economic future, these five members of the Grand Old Party joined nearly the entire Democratic caucus to cut off debate and proceed with legislation designed to jump start the economy and put Americans back to work. They proved that the Senate’s political paralysis is a temporary condition that can be overcome when lawmakers focus on creating good public policy.
The legislation, called the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act, is centered around a $13 billion provision that gives a payroll tax exemption to businesses that hire recently unemployed workers. With near record unemployment, it couldn’t come at a more desperately needed time.
According to the chief economist at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Chad Stone, 8.4 million jobs have been lost since the start of the recession.
“The economy would have to create an average of 350,000 jobs a month for two years just to return to the level of employment at the start of the recession in December 2007— and even more than that to restore full employment, since the population and potential labor force are now larger,” Stone said in a podcast last week.
The situation is even more dire for the African American community, which faces an unemployment rate of 16.5 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The HIRE Act is the first part of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s multi-step legislative strategy to create jobs and spur economic growth. Next up: An expansion of unemployment insurance and COBRA health benefits.
The legislation is fully paid for and all aspects of it have been supported by Republicans in the past. (Unfortunately, political paralysis comes with a bad case of amnesia.)
On Monday, the same day of the Senate’s vote to proceed to the HIRE Act, another major piece of bipartisan legislation was being implemented. The Credit CARD (Credit Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure) Act of 2009 was signed into law nine months ago by President Obama and enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support; the landmark bill passed the Senate (90-5) and the House of Representatives (361-64).
Said President Obama Monday, “The new rules taking effect today mean that credit card companies can no longer retroactively increase rates or increase rates in the first year you open an account, charge misleading late fees or use over-limit fee traps. They’re now required to send ample notification if they plan to make changes to the terms of your card and they must employ clear, simple standard payment dates and times. There are new protections for underage consumers, restrictions on double billing and caps on high-fee cards. [This is] an unprecedented step in my administration’s ongoing efforts to strengthen consumer protections and enact meaningful financial reform.”
For a complete summary of the bill click here&.
Still, despite minimal Republican support, President Obama has had a quite a few successes over the last year. In addition to the policies implemented to stave off a looming Depression that threatened the stability of world markets, he worked with Congress to secure passage of a multi-billion dollar economic bill. He enacted a number of measures to help struggling homeowners with their mortgages, small businesses obtain access to capital and troubled banks get rid of bad assets.
In addition, he implemented a plan to withdraw most U.S. troops based in Iraq six months from now, began sending an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan and reversed many initiatives from the Bush administration, such as harsh interrogation practices and a ban on the use of federal tax dollars for embryonic stem cell research.
And that’s nowhere near half the list. Think of what could be accomplished if Republicans accepted President Obama’s hand more often than they give him a cold shoulder.
Much work remains—on health care, debt reduction, fiscal reform, immigration, climate change and on. There are ample opportunities for Beltway Republicans to work with President Obama and Congressional Democrats to find more wins for middle class America and those who aspire to it. Yesterday was a good start and it proved that when even a few elected officials put politics aside, the process can and does work for the people who are counting on it.