Meeks’ Message From Capitol Hill
Labor Day came and went this year with an awful lot of Americans looking for an opportunity to put their labor to work at a job paying a decent wage. The August jobs report showed a slight uptick in unemployment from 9.5 percent to 9.6 percent even though the economy added almost 70,000 new jobs. The good news in the bad news was that the private sector accounted for practically all of the job growth. Other reports document a significant drop in unemployment benefit filings, meaning employers are laying off fewer workers. While unquestionably slower and with more difficulty than hoped, the recovery policies of President Obama and the Congress under Democratic leadership are moving the economy in the right direction.
Let’s remind ourselves that the economy was hemorrhaged over 750,000 jobs the month President Obama took office. It looked like two of the three American-owned auto manufacturers were going under, putting over one million auto-related jobs at risk. The financial system was teetering on the brink of collapse. A full-blown economic crisis – the worst in 80 years – gripped the nation, forcing cities and states to lay off tens of thousands of public employees and cutback or cut out a myriad of public services. Rising unemployment was worsening the mortgage foreclosure crisis that was putting millions of American families out of their homes.
The facts show that both the administration and most Democratic members of Congress were up to the challenge of tackling the root causes and effects of the George W. Bush Recession. Neither the President nor Congressional Democrats claim to have been perfect in the policies and program they put forward. But, at great electoral risk, the Democrat in the White House and Democrats in the House and Senate enacted an economic recovery plan, health care reform, financial regulatory reform, extended unprecedented unemployment benefits to millions of out-of-work Americans, helped the states avoid even greater lay-offs — particularly teachers, police and firefighters, modified the federal student loan program to make college more affordable to more families, and undertook a national export initiative to help businesses create jobs at home by selling more of their goods and services abroad.
I hosted two job fairs in my districts to connect job seekers with potential employers; one at York College with more than 2500 participants, the other at JFK Airport that more than 700 job seekers attended.
These herculean efforts prevented the economy from sinking further into the ditch into which the reckless policies of the previous administration and irresponsible Wall Street behavior drove it. Even so, much, much more still has to be done to pull the economy completely out of the Bush Recession and onto the road to renewed prosperity. Last week, President Obama made a number of proposals to spur job creation and speed up the recovery, including: a $50 billion fund to finance upgrading the nation’s roads, rail lines, and runways; a permanent extension of the tax credit for research and innovation that creates jobs here in America; making more credit available to small businesses.
I think these are great proposals because they incentivize the private sector, and above all, would help unleash the historic job creating machine of the American economy – small business. Together, these measures could have a huge impact on job creation in Southeast Queens, the entire borough, and New York City as a whole. First, the proposal to upgrade roads, rail lines, and runways would be a boon to the expansion and modernization of Kennedy Airport, the LIRR, building an eastside access tunnel from Jamaica Station to Grand Central Station, and finally freeing many Southeast Queens neighborhoods from flooding that frequently follows heavy rains.
Second, according to research by York College’s Small Business Development Center, Queens has more than 1700 manufacturing companies; more than 2900 companies involved with wholesale trade; nearly 3000 transportation and warehousing businesses; and more than 2000 firms engaged in education, administrative, support, and waste management services. Nearly 70 percent of these businesses are small businesses. The tax credit for investment in research and innovation and enhancing access to credit will help these firms expand and spur them to hire more workers locally.
The problem is these sensible proposals require Congressional action. Unless there is substantial public pressure, Congressional Republicans are certain to continue their virtually unanimous opposition to anything President Obama and Congressional Democrats propose to facilitate economic recovery. From the moment he took office, the strategy of Republicans in Congress has been to do nothing that helps the president succeed even if at the expense of helping millions of Americans get back on their feet.
My Republican colleagues seem determined to repeat and perpetuate the worst excesses of the Bush years for short-term political gain.
The list of historic legislation I mentioned above was enacted in the face of total Republican opposition in the House and the support of only two, three, sometimes four Republicans in the Senate. As we head into critical midterm elections, the only thing Congressional Republicans are for is permanently extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that would average out to a $100,000 tax cut for every millionaire and billionaire in America while adding $700 billion to the deficit.