AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland became the high bidder in the jobs game yesterday as he called on Congress to provide $68.5 billion over the next two years "to create jobs, to stimulate the economy and to ease human suffering and hardship."
Kirkland outlined the labor federation's proposal to the House Budget Committee as congressional Democratic leaders, who are drafting a much smaller jobs plan, continued to probe for a compromise with a reluctant Reagan administration.
In contrast to Kirkland's proposal to spend $22.5 billion this year and $46 billion next year on job-creating and other anti-recession measures, the Democrats are considering a plan of $5 billion to $7 billion, starting with action as soon as next month on about $1 billion in food and shelter assistance.
"If we can come up with a program we can compromise on, we'll compromise," House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) said in welcoming signals from the White House that it may go along with a speedup of public works and other jobs spending already appropriated by Congress.
However, the White House hedged on O'Neill's claim that he will be meeting shortly with Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman to discuss possible points of agreement on a jobs measure.
Deputy White House press secretary Larry Speakes indicated that any such meeting probably would include leaders of both parties and be limited to a discussion of what Reagan has included in his budget, including possible acceleration of some jobs spending.
O'Neill and the Democrats are pushing for new spending as well.
And O'Neill remained skeptical of prospects for compromise.
"I stand willing as speaker to sit down and meet with the president," he said. "But I have found him in cement so far in every conversation I've had."
Kirkland's jobs proposal was received politely by the Budget Committee, although Chairman James R. Jones (D-Okla.) put Kirkland on notice that his plan has "little chance of passage." That appeared to be a considerable understatement in light of a deficit already projected at about $200 billion for the next two years.
But Kirkland said there is a "terrible urgency" for government jobs-creation efforts and added: "Given the mass suffering in America today, none of us knows how long trust and confidence can be maintained in a democracy if the principal forum of that democracy, the federal government, can't or won't respond to severe hardship."
To provide an estimated 880,000 jobs through the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30, and 1.8 million jobs the following fiscal year, Kirkland proposed a vast expansion of public service and public works programs, along with big infusions of money into programs for young people, minorities and workers who lose their jobs because of plant closings and major layoffs.
Kirkland also proposed a permanent program of supplemental unemployment insurance for up to 65 weeks, health care for the unemployed and a "national reindustrialization board," along the lines of the old Reconstruction Finance Corp., to help finance a rebuilding of the country's industrial base through loans, loan guarantees and interest subsidies.
Kirkland called for a $700 individual limit on tax relief from the July 1 income tax cut and repeal of tax indexing for inflation, which is to take effect in 1985. He opposed Reagan's proposed cuts in social welfare spending and said the AFL-CIO still is studying what position to take on defense spending.