Friday, July 30, 2010

EDITORIAL >>Boozman’s blame game

Most of Arkansas has been off the radar of U.S. Rep. John Boozman and he ours, but that has changed since he is running for the U.S. Senate. This week, the Third District congressman sent a news release to central Arkansas media deploring the employment misery of Pulaski County and the metropolitan area. We will be favored with many more releases before the election. We hope they get better.

Congressman Boozman blamed President Obama and by implication his opponent, Senator Blanche Lincoln, for the fact that 20,100 people in Pulaski, Saline and Faulkner counties are out of work and can’t find jobs. He said Arkansas had lost 32,423 jobs the past 24 months. Actually, his number is considerably low.

But Obama has been president a couple weeks more than 17 of those 24 months. George W. Bush was president the previous seven of Boozman’s time period. During that stretch, Arkansas shed 24,031 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the recession was just picking up momentum as Bush left office. Twelve thousand Arkansans lost their jobs in Bush’s last two months in office alone and all the economists were predicting a deeper and longer recession than anyone had experienced since before World War II. Assigning seven months of Bush job losses to Obama does make him look ever so much weaker. A review of labor statistics shows that the vast majority of Arkansas job losses occurred under Bush and in Obama’s first few months in office.

Like other presidents confronted with recessions, including George W. Bush, President Obama proposed a stimulus program to preserve and create jobs. Boozman had voted for the Bush stimulus programs but not the Obama stimulus, which was larger because the crisis was deeper.

Arkansas began to add jobs last summer, six months into Obama’s term, as the stimulus act funded highway and other public works projects across the state and kept many public service workers on the job. Most of the highway and bridge jobs and other public works are wrapping up and employment began a gradual decline again five months ago. There is nothing to replace the stimulus, which now seems to have been as anemic as some economists projected. It helped, but it didn’t get the job done.

Boozman said the stimulus money was all a big waste and that all it did was to add to the national debt. He will get some argument from people who soon will not have to fight the bottleneck at the Interstate 430-630 interchange and will experience the benefits of scores of other highway, water and sanitation projects around the state and from the teachers, policemen and health workers who have stayed on the jobs despite their local governments’ loss of revenue.

His news release also condemned the “Medicare cuts” that the Obama administration was forcing upon the elderly of the state.

That perpetuates a myth that Republicans and some in the insurance industry put out last year. Medicare recipients are primary beneficiaries of the health-care reform that Boozman voted against. They will get immediate assistance in paying drug bills through negotiated reductions in prescription prices and a gradual closing of the coverage gap in the 2003 Medicare drug program. The insurance companies profiting off Medicare, not the elderly that will experience the cuts. There is a difference.

(See Andy Griffith’s TV commercials on the subject.)

Boozman said he was running to change the country’s direction, but he does not say what that would be. The country does need answers to the economic distress, but he doesn’t suggest any. There will be no new stimulus program, but what will create jobs and persuade consumers to spend? He doesn’t say.

Thursday, Republicans blocked a bill pushed by Obama and Democratic leaders to give small businesses the incentive to expand and add jobs by cutting business taxes by $12 billion and creating a $30 billion lending program to small businesses that would be administered by local banks. All 59 Democrats and independents voted to take up the bill, but all 41 Republicans — a phalanx likely to be joined by John Boozman in January — voted against it. It was written with the help of Republicans and supported by the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and other business groups but got not a single Republican vote. If the tax and loan incentives worked and jobs were created Obama might get the credit, so it had to be stopped. There will be no more legislative achievements by the Obama administration this year, and maybe not for the next two years.

Congressman Boozman might have been more credible if he had told us that he would support the legislation and not march in lockstep with Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate. McConnell was in Little Rock the other day to raise money for the congressman, and Boozman made it clear that he will be an unswerving member of the team. Maybe he would stray from his party leader now and then, as Lincoln has done? Not a chance.