Head Smacker: House Committee Takes Revenue That Could Have Helped the Jobless to Fund Highway Bill


July 11, 2014

headsmacker_sqOn Witness Wednesday, advocates for the long-term jobless sweated outside the Capitol and told some of the painful stories out of the 3.3 million so far denied unemployment benefits because Congress let the program expire. The following day, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a bill to replenish the Highway Trust Fund for ten months by snapping up the same revenue sources the Senate had used in its attempt to restore Emergency Unemployment Insurance.
Okay – it would certainly be a bad idea to let highway projects grind to a halt because the antiquated funding stream is running out of money. Federal funding for state and local projects will start drying up in August if Congress does not act. If nothing is done, it’s estimated that 700,000 jobs will be lost.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) reads an unemployed person’s story at the July 9 Witness Wednesday, organized by Center for Effective Government.

Is money really so tight that Congress has to choose between helping increasingly desperate jobless people and 10 months of road repair? Both temporary fixes cost about $10 billion over ten years.

Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) had it right when he made this observation in the Ways and Means session: “I don’t know if anyone else sees the irony of what’s going on this week. Tomorrow we are going to have a bill on the floor that will permanently extend the bonus depreciation (tax break) at a cost of $280 billion over the next ten years and not a nickel of it paid for, not a nickel of it offset, and here we are scratching and clawing and scrimping together a $10 billion package for 10 months for the infrastructure needs of our nation today which is wholly inadequate.” (That’s our transcription from watching the online video from the Ways and Means Committee.)

The bill to make permanent the bonus depreciation tax break for businesses (H.R. 4718) will be on the floor on Friday, July 11. Will that truckload of money help the economy to grow? Not according to businesses surveyed by the Congressional Research Service. Just the other day CRS reported that between two-thirds and 90 percent of the businesses asked said the bigger tax break provided by bonus depreciation had no effect on the timing of investment spending.” Thanks to Citizens for Tax Justice for sharing these findings.

If Congress cares about jobs, it should make sure there is enough money for transportation construction and maintenance. It should also restore federal unemployment benefits. The Council of Economic Advisers projected that failure to provide these benefits to three million people in 2014 would lead to the loss of 240,000 jobs. Congress should not make the bonus depreciation break permanent – businesses themselves are saying it doesn’t change their investment decisions.

The stories of the jobless shared at the Capitol at this week’s Witness Wednesday told us what Congress’ priorities should be. Jenny from Climax, Georgia lost her job in a pharmacy that closed; she had worked there for 8 years and has a total of 11 years’ work experience. The county she lives in has an unemployment rate of 12 percent. She has applied to “every imaginable job within a 100 mile radius.” Unemployment benefits were all she had to help her take care of her son. “I live in a double wide trailer that has plumbing problems and yet I’ll still probably lose that because no one cares about people like me.”

Jenny – at Voices for Human Needs we do care. We can’t understand why House Speaker Boehner has refused to bring up unemployment insurance for a vote to help you, and people like Elnora (you can read about our conversation with Elnora, whose story was also read at Witness Wednesday, here). We are angry that your needs, to be protected by unemployment insurance and to have the chance to get back to work, are being ignored while business is on track to get a tax break they don’t need. It’s a real Head Smacker.

Budget and Appropriations
Head Smacker
Highway Trust Fund
Labor and Employment
unemployment insurance
Witness Wednesday