Self-Congratulation in Congress Does Little for the Jobless
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The Fiscal Times
July 14, 2014

It’s come to this in Washington: Five years into a painfully slow economic recovery that has left millions of Americans jobless and tens of millions more struggling to get by, the leaders of both parties in the House of Representatives last week staged a “signing ceremony” and congratulated each other for passing a non-controversial bill to improve federal job training programs.

“It shows we can get things done,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

“This is a remarkable bill,” said Rep. George Miller (D-CA).

“It’s a monumental achievement,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC).

Related: Spending on Infrastructure Now Creates Long-term Jobs Later

Oh, please. This is the moral equivalent of standing in the living room, up to your knees in water, and exchanging high fives because you finally got around to patching one of the holes in the roof. In a normal world, Speaker Boehner would have signed the bill in a dark room and sent it to the White House under cover of darkness, while the other members of Congress prayed that voters didn’t start wondering what had taken them so long.

To be sure, the Workplace Innovation and Opportunity Act is a necessary piece of legislation. It streamlines a bloated and ineffective patchwork of federal job training programs. It provides increased flexibility at the state and local level to provide training specific to the needs of local industries. And it creates a much-needed system of accountability that will allow policymakers to determine what’s working and what isn’t.

These are all good things, but let’s take a step back here. The constituent pieces of the WIOA have been hanging around Washington in various bits of legislation for well over a year. And the problems with the country’s job training programs have been evident to anybody who’s paying attention for far longer than that.

Related: Dems Try to End-Run Boehner on Unemployment Insurance

In 2011 alone, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative journalism organization Pro Publica, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) all released reports exposing the problems with federal workforce development programs.

“Almost all federal employment and training programs, including those with broader missions such as multipurpose block grants, overlap with at least one other program in that they provide similar services to similar populations.”

Coburn found the system “rife with waste, fraud and abuse and lacking demonstrable effectiveness.”

Five years after the end of the worst recession in living memory is hardly the time for back–slapping because you’ve fixed a problem that everyone has known about for ages.

Related: Good Jobs Report Leaves Many Millennials Out

If members of Congress feel like addressing the unemployment issue, there are a few other things they could do – some of which have been obvious problems even longer than the state of federal jobs training programs.

Democrats in the Senate could take an honest look at some of the jobs legislation that has passed the House of Representatives. To be sure, some of the supposed “jobs” bills that have cleared the House are little more than veiled attempts to embarrass the Obama Administration. But that’s not true of all of them, and passing some would provide real job growth.

Republicans in the House of Representatives could drop their resistance to an extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless. Something on the order of 5 million unemployed Americans will have lost benefits by yearend because of Republicans’ refusal to even consider a bipartisan Senate effort to extend benefits that, until now, have been routinely renewed in times of high unemployment.

Both parties could get behind effort to improve the country’s crumbling infrastructure – something that will not only have to happen at some point in the future, but is also guaranteed to create jobs immediately.

Action on two or three of those issues might actually be worth a few high-fives.

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A longtime reporter on the intersection of the federal government and the private sector, Rob Garver is National Correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He has written for ProPublica, The New York Times and other publications.