Just a week after Senate Republican Jim Bunning's infamous obstruction of an unemployment benefits extension, the GOP is taking another stand that pits deficit reduction against aid to the poor and jobless.
On Tuesday, Senate Republicans -- along with some Democrats -- defeated a measure to provide $1.3 billion for summer jobs for young people this year and a $1.3 billion extension of enhanced subsidies for poor families with children.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who introduced the amendment along with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), pleaded with her colleagues not to object.
"I have personally heard the stories of these young men and women whose summer jobs changed their lives across the country," she said. "This amendment will provide $1.3 billion to create up to 500,000 temporary jobs this coming summer. It will invest in critical employment and learning programs that will help not only these young people but the businesses who hire them."
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) was not moved. "Why do we keep doing this?" said Gregg, arguing that the amendment was not paid for. "Why do we keep passing on to our children these debts?" His stance recalled Bunning's defense of his controversial decision last week to single-handedly block an extension of unemployment benefits -- he finally caved and allowed passage of the bill.
Murray unsuccessfully argued that the amendment was paid for over a 10-year period. But Democrats could muster only 55 votes against Gregg's budgetary point of order, five short of the supermajority needed to overcome it. Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jim Webb (Va.), Mark Warner (Va.), and Ben Nelson (Neb.) joined the Republicans in voting no.
The Kerry-Murray amendment would extend stimulus bill provisions creating a summer jobs program and subsidies for vulnerable families with children via the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The stimulus bill created the TANF Emergency Fund, which provided $5 billion to reimburse states for 80 percent of increased state spending on cash assistance, subsidized jobs and other short-term benefits for families. The amendment provides $1.3 billion to extend the program, which expires in September, until March 2011.
"It's very important," said Donna Pavetti, a TANF expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "It has allowed for the biggest expansion we've ever seen of subsidized employment for low-income parents."
Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a senior policy analyst with CLASP, said the TANF program will have subsidized at least 100,000 jobs by the end of September.
"Obviously, we're disappointed," she said. "People need the jobs and they're not going to get them this way. It's frustrating that it got a majority but was defeated on a pay-go point of order because it's paid for over 10 years instead of one year."
Lower-Basch said advocates will pressure Democrats to reintroduce the TANF funding before the enhanced program expires in September. She said the fate of state summer jobs programs is less certain.
Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the progressive Economic Policy Institute, said the Kerry-Murray amendment would be more efficient at creating jobs than the much-ballyhooed new hires tax credit introduced by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
"Kerry-Murray is a far more cost effective expenditure of tax dollars than the Schumer-Hatch new hires tax credit, which cost $13 billion and will probably create fewer than 200,000 jobs - if it creates any," wrote Eisenbrey in an email to HuffPost. "Job creation via the new hires tax credit is totally speculative (what are the chances that a 6.2% credit will cause even a single employer to hire a new employee the employer wouldn't otherwise have hired?), whereas the Murray-Kerry amendment would directly create hundreds of thousands of jobs, including summer jobs for young people, at a cost of only $2.6 billion.
"The TANF Emergency Fund and the summer jobs program are proven successes from last year's Recovery Act and deserve to be renewed or extended."
UPDATE 3:10 PM: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took the floor to announce Murray and Kerry had agreed to drop TANF in exchange for a new vote on just the summer jobs provision.
"There was a debate this morning and a lot of talk outside the chamber regarding the TANF summer jobs program," said Reid. "The objection that a number of senators raised was that it was paid for over ten years rather than five years. In an effort to compromise on this, Sens. Murray and Kerry have agreed that we would drop anything relating to TANF...and over five years pay for summer jobs in the amount of $743 million. As everyone will remember, that was originally $1.5 billion, so this, it would be lowered to the $743 million. It's paid for over five years. TANFit not included in any of this, much to the consternation of a lot of us. But I would ask consent that that amendment would be allowed. We would be happy to have another vote on it, if necessary."
Gregg objected. No vote.