One blessing of the holiday season is upon us: The prospect that members of Congress will actually stay away from Washington for a few weeks, leaving what’s left of our liberties and livelihoods alone until the new year.
Glory, hallelujah, amen.
Of course, lawmakers will be back at it soon. And we’re already seeing signs that they have no idea how to address the serious problems average, struggling Americans face every day.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has declared that his highest priority next month is extending emergency federal unemployment benefits. And Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., has co-sponsored a bill to extend the aid for three months. An extension sought by Democrats and a handful of Republicans was left out of the bipartisan, two-year budget deal recently hammered out.
Federal benefits for those who’ve been jobless more than 26 weeks expire Saturday. States are responsible for the first 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, then federal aid kicks in. At one point last year, federal benefits lasted up to 73 weeks, meaning the jobless could collect aid for up to 99 weeks total. Congress has scaled back federal benefits since, to a maximum of 47 weeks in high-unemployment states such as Nevada, Rhode Island and Illinois.
Yes, the jobless rate is falling, but it remains high at 7 percent nationally and 9 percent in Nevada. More than 85,000 people are looking for work in Southern Nevada. But those numbers don’t include the long-term jobless who’ve dropped out of the workforce and stopped looking for employment. The labor participation rate, at about 63 percent, hasn’t been this low since the late 1970s.
The country needs jobs, not more jobless benefits. Congress and the White House have completely lost sight of this.
Washington could take many steps to put Americans back to work almost immediately. President Barack Obama finally could authorize the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline, a private-sector project that would employ thousands directly and thousands more through multipliers. Congress could open vast amounts of federal land to oil and gas exploration and allow states besides North Dakota to share in the country’s energy boom. And, of course, lawmakers could repeal Obamacare, which has been a wet blanket on the recovery since it was passed four years ago.
Instead, Democrats and the White House want to raise the minimum wage, an action that would put even more people out of work and all but lock unskilled teens out of the labor force.
If the country’s job market doesn’t substantially improve in 2014, voters may send members of Congress to the unemployment line.
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This article was written by the editorial board of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.