Getting together on jobs
Even the weekend storm which dumped a hefty amount of snow on the nation's capital cannot hide the signs of thaw taking place between the White House and Congress over terms of a new jobs program. After all the wrangling over the issue during past months it is certainly a refreshing change of pace to find signs of bipartisan accommodation: the White House now outlining a package of around $4.3 billion and House majority leader Jim Wright saying that the plan ''forms the basis for a very good emergency bill.'' With compromise like this, a new jobs program might make it through Congress by mid-March, as many lawmakers are urging.
The historical record of previous programs indicates why prompt action is needed. In the three major recessions since 1960, where public works programs were put into place, they did not get underway until the economy was well on the upswing. In other words, the rationale for the projects - to serve as ''countercyclical'' or antire-cessionary stimulants - disappeared. Today, with a number of key indicators suggesting the US may be coming out of its economic slump, a jobs program will be effective only if it is put into effect quickly.
Which leads to a consideration of the program being crafted by the White House. The irony is that Mr. Reagan only late last year threatened to veto a $5. 4 billion public works program passed by the House; the program was not all that different from the slightly smaller plan now talked about. Mr. Reagan still opposes what he calls ''make-work'' programs. But by coming forth with a new plan the administration is obviously responding to concerns from GOP lawmakers, smarting over party losses in last year's elections.
The White House proposal, while still only in tentative form, would be based on speeding up construction and maintenance work already included in the President's budget for fiscal 1984. Some $32 billion is set aside in that budget for military and civilian construction. The budget also provides additional funds for research and development. Thus, many jobs that would come into being after October of 1983 could be created now. In addition, the administration is proposing humanitarian funds for food and shelter.
There can be little quarrel about such a modest program. The Democrats will seek to ensure that some of the funds will be used for public-service municipal jobs. (Funds for a limited number of public-sector jobs could be provided through community development block grants.) But the encouraging thing is that the framework - and political consensus - for a jobs program seems at last to be emerging. The program will not satisfy groups seeking a substantially larger effort - such as organized labor, which would expend up to $68 billion over two years. But it does represent a reasonable program that could be quickly put into place and, if the recession were not to lift during the months ahead, be sharply expanded.
In short - a good beginning.