Now that the new health care law is passed, Democrats are hoping to focus on jobs and the economy. Members of Congress and progressive organizations have begun talking more about the Local Jobs For America Act. It is a good bill that should actually help to create and save jobs while temporarily helping to ease the crushing financial shortfalls faced by the states. Also, the bill has the added benefit of containing the word “Job” in the title.
The question, of course, turns to whether Democrats can pass this bill without needing to effectively gut it to make Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Ben Nelson (R-NE) happy so that it can overcome a filibuster. It is possible Democrats might be able to get some bipartisan support for the bill, but I believe the only way Democrats can guarantee passage is by using reconciliation. That is why it is critical progressives focus on adding reconciliation instructions that could be used for it in the upcoming budget resolution.
Should Democrats use reconciliation to pass the Local Jobs For America Act?
There are three important reasons why Democrats should leave themselves the option to pass the Local Jobs for America Act, even if it means passing it on a party line vote.
What is really killing Democrats heading into November is the poor economy and the 10% unemployment rate. If the economy stays bad, Democrats are sunk. I think any political damage possibly done by even more Republican screaming about partisanship and deficits would pale in comparison to the political upside of a bill that could noticeably bring the unemployment rate down.
It already looks like the economy is very slowly adding jobs. If Democrats pass a bill with the word “jobs” in the title over Republicans obstructionism, and unemployment starts going down, a well-run campaign (I know, a near impossibility for Democrats) should be able to capitalize on the optics.
2) Negotiation power
It is possible that Democrats can actually get sufficient bipartisan support for the bill so that it could overcome a filibuster without crippling the legislation, but if Democrats include reconciliation instructions in the budget, it gives them a much better bargaining position. Making it clear that they can pass a bill without any Republican input or ideas gives Republicans a great incentive to buy in, since they know lockstep obstructionism wouldn't be able to bring down the bill.
Last but not least is the moral issue. There are millions of Americans seriously suffering as a result of this economic downturn. I'm not an economic expert, but I at least know many prominent Congressional Democrats believe this bill would help a large number of their constituents. If Democrats think this bill will help, but for political reasons are unwilling to use every tool at their disposal to pass it, then they don't deserve to stay a majority party.
Could reconciliation be used for the Local Jobs for America Act?
A cursory reading of the bill leaves me to think that most of it will not violate the Byrd rule and/or the bill could easily be rewritten to be Byrd-proof while maintaining the general spirit of the original. Since the bill consists basically of large grants to the states, most of it is clearly budget related.
The one problem is the issue of funding. Traditionally, reconciliation bills have mainly been used to reduce the deficit. Something deficit peacocks like Kent Conrad (D-ND) might insist on. Finding $100 billion in funding might not be easy and could endanger the whole bill.
Democrats don't actually need to make the reconciliation bill a deficit reducer. They do have the option of following the example set by Republicans and making the reconciliation instructions to increase the deficit. This is how Republicans were able to pass their deficit-increasing Bush tax cuts using reconciliation. While including deficit increasing reconciliation instructions is sure raise some hackles, it seems a small price to pay to show Americans that Democrats are serious about trying to tackle unemployment.
A goal and the means, but what about the will?
Democrats have a goal; reduce unemployment and deal with hardships resulting from the economic downturn. They have the means to help achieve that goal: passing the Local Jobs for America Act, using reconciliation, if need be. The only question is do Congressional Democrats have the political will to use every possible tool to deal with joblessness? We will know soon enough if they include reconciliation instructions in the budget resolution.