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The many, many Senate jobs bills


You've probably heard a lot about the Senate jobs bill. First, it was an $80 billion bill written by Max Baucus. Then, Harry Reid tossed that out as too diffuse and vowed to push a leaner $15 billion package based around a payroll tax cut for businesses that hire new workers.

But a $15 billion jobs bill won't create very many jobs. I was preparing to write a long post flaying the Democrats for this inanity, but it turns out this isn't the jobs bill. It's just a piece of it. Rather than pushing one big jobs bill incorporating a bunch of different ideas, the Democrats are planning to push a lot of smaller jobs bills including just a few ideas each. Call this the Lamar Alexander approach to job creation.

There'll be a bill extending unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits. There'll be a bill with aid to the states. There'll be a bill with infrastructure investments. There'll be a bill with grants and tax credits to improve energy efficiency. You can download the whole list here (pdf). Senate aides are under the impression that all the pieces together come to roughly $80 billion, which is still too small.

The upside of this strategy is political: It's better messaging because each bill is less complex, and has a smaller price tag. It also allows Democrats to retain more control over the agenda, as they can keep bringing out these single-serving bills week after week. The downsides are substantive: The help will reach people more slowly because the different elements will take longer to pass, and it seems likelier -- though this is just a guess -- that some of these bills will fail, while they'd have passed if they'd been included as elements in the larger package.

Photo credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

By Ezra Klein  |  February 16, 2010; 5:26 PM ET
Categories:  Economic Policy  
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as a personal favor to me and hundreds of thousands of small businesses across the US if Congress is going to fund ARRA more for the 65% COBRA subsidy can they please do it for more than two months this time. This piecemeal approach is really horribly done. Do it for a year and then pray we actually get some jobs sooner so it can be scaled down earlier ala the TARP.

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 16, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

You're absolutely right on the practical downside of this strategy. Regardless, the piecemeal approach is politically necessary. The Democrats have to put some political pressure on the Republicans if they're to get anything done. Efficacy is a sacrifice, and we hope not too great of one. If this really does signal a new legislative/media strategy from the Dems, then my guess is that they offer all at once and start making noise about how long the process takes, to to win the process argument. That is, if there IS a corresponding media strategy.

Posted by: etdean1 | February 16, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

I think we have all realized that controling the narrative is the most important thing, trumping actual policy. So this is a welcome approach, like etdean1 said, as long as it comes with a corresponding media strategy. The initial coverage was "Reid scales down jobs bill", which isn't good messaging at all. Gotta remain skeptical until proven otherwise.

Posted by: Quant | February 16, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

btw- speaking of messaging, the Republicans have done a very good job of equating Obama with Carter, but the Dems have not done a good job of equating the Republicans with anyone. Bush doesn't work, since any mention of Bush is still too charged, so I'd like to see them try harder to push the Hoover meme.

Posted by: Quant | February 16, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Call me a cynic, but I wouldn't expect Hoover references to have any resonance with a public that's easily manipulated by media narratives.

Posted by: cog145 | February 16, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Call me cynical, but if you start throwing around Hoover, most Americans will start to wonder what this has to do with vacuum cleaners.

Posted by: hansr | February 16, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Hoover is synonomous w a failed presidency and economic depression in a relatively benign, non-partisan way. That's why I think it'll work better than Bush-bashing, which people tend to tune out.

Posted by: Quant | February 16, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Taking money from jobs-producing people to give to non-jobs-producing people in the wild hope that they'll create something out of the air is nothing less than stupid.

Posted by: msoja | February 16, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

I don't know msoja, infrastructure construction and maintenance, grants for energy efficiency projects, and aid to states to prevent layoffs all sound like good job producing measures to me. Then again, I live here in America where trickle down economics was disproven, not in the fantasy world of Ayn Rand.

Posted by: etdean1 | February 16, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

"If I could create one job in the private sector by helping to grow a business, that would be one more than Congress has created in the last six months." -- Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN)

Posted by: cpurick | February 16, 2010 7:09 PM | Report abuse

--"infrastructure construction and maintenance, grants for energy efficiency projects [etc.]"--

Yeah, those magic things only bureaucrats can do.

Sorry, but there isn't ANYTHING that the private sector can't do better than government does.

What criteria do you suppose the government uses to pick the "energy efficiency projects" that it then endows with other people's money? What do you suppose their rate of success is? Is it higher or lower than the rate of success of the people from whom the money was taken?

And I'd like to see your cite on the failure of "trickle down economics".

Posted by: msoja | February 16, 2010 7:38 PM | Report abuse

i take issue with:

"that some of these bills will fail, while they'd have passed if they'd been included as elements in the larger package."

aside from the stimulus bill, i find little proof of this statement in the 111th senate.

Posted by: eriklontok | February 16, 2010 8:48 PM | Report abuse

"Sorry, but there isn't ANYTHING that the private sector can't do better than government does."

Yes, the global economic collapse of 2008 and the resulting smoking crater of unemployment is certainly a testament to the unlimited potential of an unregulated private sector. Let's just have government keep hands off and see what further delightful treats lay in store for us courtesy of the titans on Wall Street, and laissez faire economic policies.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 16, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

--"a testament to the unlimited potential of an unregulated private sector."--

As it's hard to find any sector of the U.S. economy that isn't under one governmental thumb or another, I don't know what you're talking about.

If you'd like to finger the housing market, start with explaining Fannie and Freddie. For instance.

Posted by: msoja | February 16, 2010 10:39 PM | Report abuse

msoja, the collapse occurred because our wonderous Republican leaders, like Bush, Cheney, and Greenspan, claimed that "everything will be self-correcting and fix itself and the free market has taken all risk into account."

Posted by: tyromania | February 16, 2010 10:41 PM | Report abuse

Foolish political strategy by Reid. On this issue Klein is right, a single, bigger bill would be more effective than small, incremental bills.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | February 16, 2010 11:42 PM | Report abuse

--"Republican leaders, like Bush, Cheney, and Greenspan, claimed [...]"--

The "collapse occurred" because Republicans "claimed" something?

Have you seen this?:

I think intrusive legislating trumps empty bloviating ten ways to Sunday.

Posted by: msoja | February 16, 2010 11:56 PM | Report abuse

$80B in a $14T economy-just over 1/2 of 1% of GDP-wont help the economy that much. Is this all about the 60, or what? And couldnt something much better be done thru reconciliation with 50+Biden? Say $200B now paid for in the later years of the 5 or 10 year budget numbers? Are there just too many Evan Bayhs?

Posted by: gregspolitics | February 17, 2010 12:12 AM | Report abuse

I actually think this could make some of the individual measures *more* likely to pass.

Look, we saw the same pattern in both the stimulus and the HCR bill: a lot of individually popular ideas thrown together into one big expensive bill that Republicans are easily able to confuse the public about. It's going to be a lot harder for a conservative Democrat or a liberal Republican to justify voting against extending COBRA benefits than to argue against a vaguely defined "oversized jobs bill that doesn't target jobs and costs taxpayers more than they can afford to pay right now."

Posted by: madjoy | February 17, 2010 1:13 AM | Report abuse

--"Say $200B now paid for in the later years of the 5 or 10 year budget numbers?"--

If the Asians quit buying U.S. debt, how much is that in those "later years"?

Posted by: msoja | February 17, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

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