Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) staged what amounted to a recession horror show on Capitol Hill yesterday, soliciting hard-times stories from jobless workers and blaming the Carter administration for their plight.
Toward the end of the three-hour hearing that Kennedy chaired for the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, Ernest D. Green, an assistant secretary of labor, became the surrogate villain as he attempted to defend administration policies.
Over and over Kennedy, who is pursuing the Democratic presidential nomination despite overwhelming odds favoring President Carter, tried to get Green to say when the administration might propose a full-scale anti-recession jobs program.
And, over and over again, Green said the administration has no specific date for such a proposal though it is "looking at" options.
Although gentle with Green, one of the highest-ranking blacks in the administration, Kennedy and Sen. Donald W. Riegle (D-Mich.) were scathing in their criticism of the administration he spoke for -- Riegle even more so than Kennedy. When Green submitted a statement asserting progress against both inflation and recession, Riegle called it "inadequate . . . appalling" and said to Green: "I know it's not true, they know it's not true, and I think you know it's not true."
For Green, the parade of recession victims was a hard -- if not impossible -- act to follow.
They came from Michigan, Ohio, Alabama and Maryland -- auto workers, a steelworker, a truck driver, a welfare recipient trained by the government for work she can't find, all of them complaining of severe financial hardship and pleading for government policies to create more jobs.
Their message dovetailed with Kennedy's prescription for the economy, including government creation of 800,000 new jobs, but not with Carter's efforts to avoid exacerbating inflation through more federal spending.
"You've heard about the New Rich. Well, we're the New Poor," said Arlene Brown, a laid-off Detroit auto worker who's been operating a telephone hotline for the jobless out of her home, receiving nearly 1,000 pleas for help in eight months. "We're angry, we're intelligent, and we know what needs to be done."
Herself a victim of the bone disease called rickets during the 1930s Depression, she told of a prospective mother who has been eating so poorly that she feared for the health of her unborn child. The woman was forced to leave her local hospital when the jobless couple's medical insurance ran out, and shortly afterward her husband hanged himself, Brown told the committee. "We need food, my God we need food," she said.
Ronny Osborne and his wife, Rene, both laid-off Michigan auto workers, said they have been selling possessions to buy food and other necessities and have received an eviction notice from their trailer park. "Our kids are always hungry . . . my one-year-old has no shoes," said Rene Osborne.
William Eason, a Birmingham, Ala., steelworker, said he turned down disability retirement when he developed a pituitary gland cyst "because i don't want charity . . . I want to work" but now has lost the job-related medical insurance that covered his illness.
Robert Maxwell, an Ohio steel hauler, said he fears he may have to sell his livelihood, the truck.
Mae Ray of Baltimore said she got government training as a welder to get off welfare but can't find work.
Asked by reporters for their presidential preference, the group turned up not a single avowed Carter supporter. Eason said he was for Republican nominee Ronald Reagan, and Maxwell said he saw good points in both Kennedy and Reagan.Said Brown: "Do I deserve to have to vote for a movie actor or a peanut farmer?"