Republicans launch new Congress with 'jobs bills.' Will they create jobs?

Three Republican-backed bills to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and amend Obamacare would have only a minimal effect on job growth, data suggest.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts (l.) and Democratic members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee cast their votes on whether to move Keystone XL pipeline legislation to the Senate floor Thursday on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Republicans are launching out of the gate in the new Congress with three “jobs bill” measures they say will help rev up the US economy.

But are they jobs bills, really? The label may accurately reflect the Republican motivation. But if the goal is to create more good-paying jobs with strong benefits, none of these bills looks like a huge win for US workers.

Here’s a closer look at each bill.

Keystone pipeline. Of the three bills, this one may offer the biggest gains for US workers. Moving forward with a pipeline to bring oil from Canadian tar sands to US refineries would, by a Washington Post analysis, result in the equivalent of about 4,000 construction jobs for one year – plus additional job gains through the purchase of materials and the spillover as construction workers spend their salaries on other goods and services.

How many jobs in all?​ The Post article says the 42,000 figure that some Republicans cite is at least a bit "inflated."  And even at best, those jobs last just a year.  Once built, the pipeline is estimated to employ a relative handful of workers. All this analysis summarizes conclusions in a State Department report on Keystone.

Supporters say the pipeline would still be an important step in building a vibrant domestic energy industry, and polls show strong public support. They say it’s wrong to scoff at “temporary” jobs. “Well, of course, construction jobs go away at the end of the construction project. And if you do things to grow the economy, those construction jobs go to other construction jobs” after that, Sen. Roy Blunt (R) of Missouri told reporters this week.

Environmentalists view the pipeline as unneeded and harmful for the carbon emissions that will result. Defenders of the bill say the oil will be developed and refined, whether with American involvement or not. The House is expected to vote Friday; President Obama has promised a veto.

Veterans and health reform. The Hire More Heroes Act passed with overwhelming bipartisan support Tuesday (412 to 0) in the House, but analysts say it will help relatively few people. The bill allows employers not to count veterans with military health care plans toward the employee limit under Affordable Care Act reforms. The law’s “employer mandate” calls for firms with 50 or more full-time employees to offer health insurance or pay a tax penalty. The idea behind the new bill is that if employers don’t have to count military veterans toward that total, they’ll be more likely to hire those vets. It may help a few veterans find jobs, but no one thinks this will get noticed in overall tallies of US job creation.

The 40-hour work week. This bill is also focused around the ACA’s employer mandate that firms with 50 or more full-time workers should offer health plans. At present, the definition of full-time is 30 or more hours per week. The legislation, supported mainly by Republicans but also by a few congressional Democrats, would redefine full-time as 40 hours or more.

The key question here is not really about adding jobs but about what might happen to those who already have full-time jobs.

The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argues that the move will hurt the 44 percent of Americans workers who are on the job for 40 hours a week. The concern is that businesses could cut these workers' hours to get under the 40-hour threshold.

The conservative American Action Forum counters that those shift changes would be modest for the affected workers. The greater concern is that, if the bill does not pass, businesses could slash hours for some workers from 40 hours down to 29 a week.

Some job growth might result, argued Ben Gitis, a policy analyst at the American Action Forum. “By minimizing the impact of the mandate, small businesses will be able to focus their resources on hiring more workers instead of insurance and penalty costs,” he wrote.

But if an analysis for the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is right, it’s hard to see the 40-hour-a-week bill as a boon for US workers.

The CBO estimated that the measure would reduce the number of people receiving employment-based health coverage by about 1 million people. As a result, more people would rely on Obamacare insurance marketplaces, on Medicaid, or go uninsured. In turn, that would cost the taxpayers $53 billion in higher federal deficits over the next 10 years, the CBO estimated.

The House passed the Save American Workers Act Thursday. The president has promised a veto.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.