THE SENATE will resume consideration today of an emergency relief and jobs bill passed earlier by the House. Without prompt action on the measure, millions of unemployed workers may find their unemployment benefits temporarily cut off.
The evolution of the "jobs" part of the multibillion-dollar legislation has not been a very rewarding sight. The original administration version--heavily laden with construction projects going to powerful political interests--already had more than a faint odor of pork about it. The House Appropriations Committee quickly added to the aroma, piling on projects of interest to its more influential members.
For example, a $33 million "demonstration" project--an item of particular interest to Appropriations Committee Chairman Jamie Whitten--will test the novel concept of building wider highways in certain districts. This being done in the name of science, we wonder what will happen if the project doesn't work. Will the roads be rolled up and returned to the taxpayer?
Thanks to the efforts of a few members with broader interests on their minds--and the effective working of an unusual coalition of labor unions and women's groups--the final House version has some redeeming amendments. Part of the money was directed to areas where unemployment is truly at disaster levels--that seems a useful feature for a measure that bills itself as emergency relief. And some money would be available for creating health and social service jobs that could not only provide needed assistance for hard-hit people, but also employ some of the great majority of the unemployed who don't happen to be construction workers.
Things got off to a somewhat better start in the Senate, where Appropriations Committee Chairman Mark Hatfield reported a measure that, while smaller in total than the House version, put much more of its money into high-unemployment areas and needed public services. That didn't sit well with senators who weren't getting their full "share" of the action. Never mind that their constituents are lucky enough to live in prosperous areas; why help the victims of real disaster if you can't help yourself as well?
Grease from the pork barrel has, of course, oiled the machinery of political compromise since the republic was born. But this is not a normal appropriations bill in normal times. It is an attempt to find room in a very tight budget for ways to alleviate the terrible hardship now being endured by people who have been without jobs for many months. Many of these people are now waiting in bread lines and sleeping in cars and cardboard cities. When the Senate meets today, Sen. Hatfield and others will continue their battle to see that at least a sizable part of the money being appropriated actually does some good. They deserve stronger support from their fellow senators from all parts of the country.