Congress is hurrying this week through the final hours of the pre-election session, putting off as much as they can until after the elections. They leave behind a nation in shambles. Due to the fatal combination of Republican obstruction and Democratic defection, they’ve left millions of people out of work and millions more falling into poverty. And the spending bill that will keep the government running while they’re gone ends the only true job-creation program we’ve got going right now.
Itching to get out of D.C. and spend their time campaigning, the Senate yesterday voted to move ahead on its continuing resolution bill. The House is expected to vote tomorrow. The continuing resolution will extend funding for many existing programs through Dec. 3, giving Congress time to pass a new budget when they return on Nov. 15. But a whole slew of vital spending was left out of the bill entirely.
Most notably, Senators also left out funding for a program that, over the last year, has supported wages for as many as 250,000 jobs. Called the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund, it was created as part of the stimulus and gave states money to put unemployed Americans to work. It’s the country’s only subsidized job recovery program. It also helped states meet growing demands on their safety nets, by providing drawdown funds for cash assistance and for basic needs like housing, heating and transportation assistance and domestic violence services.
The TANF Emergency Contingency Fund will expire today and many of these jobs and services will be lost immediately.
President Obama had asked Congress to spend an additional $20 billion for programs, services and unfunded regulatory changes. But in a rare moment of Senate unity, albeit unity about doing absolutely nothing, leadership from both parties agreed yesterday not to fund these requests. Now, a $5.5 billion shortfall in education funds will lead to an axing of Pell Grants for low-income college students, and funds needed to implement the administration’s signiture health care and financial regulation bills are missing.
According to the Associated Press, senators also decided not to come up with $4 billion to finance settlements of long-standing lawsuits by black farmers and American Indians against the government.
And, in case anyone forgot, the Bush tax cuts will still need to be voted on, since a vote on that mess was punted down the line as well. Plus, unemployment insurance will need to be extended again, and if all goes as planned the Democrats’ promise to restore slashed funding to the food stamp program will be back on the table as well.
Now the spin game begins in earnest as members of both parties head back home for more than a month of campaigning. When they return they’ll deal with the mess they’ve left. Time will tell if the Democrats will have missed their window to build a floor through which we won’t let struggling families fall—and rebuild an economy in the process.