The Hobson’s Choice of jobs bills

THE HOBSON’S CHOICE OF JOBS BILLS…. The top two members of the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), unveiled the crux of a new Senate jobs bill today, which will apparently generate at last some bipartisan support.

[Baucus and Grassley] released a draft $85 billion plan that would give employers a payroll tax exemption for hiring those who have been unemployed for at least 60 days. The bill would also provide a $1,000 income tax credit for new workers retained for 52 weeks.

The measure, which is scheduled to be reviewed by Senate Democrats this afternoon, also seeks to spur capital investment by extending tax benefits, by providing a federal subsidy for bonds issued for public works projects, and by taking steps to improve highway and transit construction. Jobless benefits and health care coverage for the unemployed would also be extended in the measure.

Now, my expectations have been lowered so much, this seemed encouraging. Congress hasn’t passed an important piece of legislation in so long, my first instinct is to feel delighted about progress on a “bipartisan” jobs bill that — get this — some Republicans are prepared to let the Senate consider with an up-or-down vote. Imagine that.

But this AP story suggests any enthusiasm about this breakthrough should be tempered by some inconvenient details.

There’s a problem with the bipartisan jobs bill emerging in the Senate: It won’t create many jobs.

The bill includes tax cuts to please Republicans and its passage would hand President Barack Obama a badly needed political victory. But even the Obama administration acknowledges the legislation’s centerpiece — a tax cut for businesses that hire unemployed workers — would work only on the margins.

Tax experts and business leaders said companies are unlikely to hire workers just to receive a tax break.

So why would the Senate move forward on a jobs bill that’s underwhelming in the job-creating department? It’s not a mystery — in order for legislation to pass, it necessarily has to be made worse. Democrats could write a terrific jobs bill — which, you know, would create lots of jobs — but Republicans won’t let the Senate vote on it. Republicans will, however, let the chamber vote on a weaker bill that does less good.

Democrats are effectively given a straightforward choice: embrace a good bill that gets killed by GOP obstructionism, or embrace a weak bill that won’t do much good but can pass. And here’s the kicker: when Americans notice that the jobs bill didn’t deliver impressive results, it’s the Democratic majority that will get the blame, even though Dems wanted a better bill.

This is the nature of “bipartisan” lawmaking — giving lawmakers a chance to vote on inadequate legislation. If the Senate could vote on bills, and pass them with majority support, the results for the country would be far better.

But the smallest Senate minority in three decades has decided to break the American policymaking process.