The return of work requirements: The GOP gets its Herbert Hoover on | Wednesday Morning Coffee

May 12, 2021 7:21 am

Jobless workers demonstrate in Miami Springs in support of continued federal unemployment benefits in the pandemic economy. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Having tired of the culture wars, state and national Republicans have returned to the familiar and comforting battlefield of the class wars, using last week’s disappointing jobs numbers as an excuse to call for the end of extended unemployment benefits, based on the slender and debunked premise that it has discouraged people from seeking work.

Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the jobs report “begins to confirm that this is a barrier — not the only barrier, but a barrier to filling open positions in the recovery,” the New York Times reported. He added that, “we absolutely have to begin to make the preparation to turn the supplement off. The sooner we do that, the sooner it’s going to become clear how this has been holding us back.”

House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, piled on, declaring that the White House’s strategies, which generally have improved the economy, was “sabotaging our jobs recovery with promises of higher taxes and regulation on local businesses that discourage hiring and drive jobs overseas,” the Times reported, citing a statement released by Brady’s office.

On Tuesday, the White House stiffened its line, saying people who turned down employment risked losing their benefitsPresident Joe Biden has continued to defend the more generous benefits, however.

Meanwhile, red state governors are parroting the national line, and have announced that they’ll turn down hundreds of millions of dollars in federal assistance to force their residents to return to poorly paying service-sector jobs with horrible benefits and potentially unsafe working conditions exacerbated by mask- and vaccine-denying patrons.

That’s also happening in Pennsylvania, where the Republican-controlled House Labor & Industry Committee has advanced a job search requirement, the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso reported. And the rhetoric from its sponsor, committee Chairman Jim Cox, R-Berks, has a hauntingly familiar ring to it.

“I should hope Pennsylvanians aren’t that lazy. I don’t believe they are,” Cox said. “But I do believe there is an incentive for them to not look for jobs, and that’s when the government continues to dole out money.”

In a way, it’s kind of refreshing to see Republicans drop the obsession with Dr. Seuss and other shiny-object attractions of the culture war and get back to their fundamental business of defending corporate America.

There is no small irony, of course, that it’s happening even as the GOP continues to try to shed its image as the party of the rich and rebrand itself as the defender of the working class.

(Image via

The rhetorical jiu-jitsu, however, is a gross oversimplification of the tectonic forces that are reshaping the post-pandemic economy, as NBC News and other outlets have detailed.

First up, yes, it’s undeniably true that there are more jobs than there are people applying for open positions. That’s happening, in part, because people who got discouraged during January and February haven’t yet gotten the memo that the tide has turned, NBC News notes.

But it’s also true that the pandemic-driven changes that reshaped the economy to begin with: home-schooling, childcare, and concerns about avoiding infection in the workplace until they’re fully vaccinated, also are causing people to hang back.

“It’s not just labor demand and supply, these are tough working conditions,” Bhushan Sethi, the global people and organization co-leader at PwC Consulting Agency, told NBC News.

“I can’t underscore enough the real concern of individuals,” he continued. “Am I safe? Will I be forced to trade personal safety around the virus and variants for a job?”

Finally, it’s also true that some people are using this time to consider their options and contemplate job changes.

But here’s irony rearing its ugly head again: Republicans in the states and on Capitol Hill are opposing or refusing those things that would actually encourage people to return to work. Namely, a livable wage, paid child care, and incentives in the American Rescue Plan for holdout states to finally expand Medicaid, among other things, as NYMag’s Intelligencer reported.

Image via Flickr Commons

And here’s where the GOP further tips its hand: A lot of what Biden wants to do is paid for by taxes on the wealthiest Americans and corporations. And while Republicans may want Coca-Cola to keep its trap shut about odious efforts to restrict voting in Georgia, they still know on which side their fundraising bread is buttered.

Which is why you saw Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sprain his tongue last month as he walked back his call for corporations to stay out of politics. Corporate donations, after all, slowed to a trickle after large companies cut off GOP lawmakers who opposed certifying the election results.

And as much as the exiled former Dear Leader held himself out as a champion of the forgotten man, he spent much of his four years disassembling the regulatory state to make the turf friendlier to big business. And let’s not leave out the deficit-exploding tax cuts that benefited the wealthiest Americans to the detriment of working Americans.

So while the GOP’s recent rhetoric about lazy and ambition-free workers (and which workers are they referring to, by the way? Surely not the base?) is disappointing, it’s not particularly surprising.

The grift has been in plain sight the whole time.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Officials from the state Health Department were a no-show, but that didn’t stop a state Senate panel from asking questions about a contact-tracing data breach that may have left thousands of Pennsylvanians’ private health information exposed, Marley Parish reports.

After being diagnosed with stage one breast cancer earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmorelandsays she will undergo surgery to treat and prevent the disease, Parish also reports.

Indoor and outdoor events and gatherings at Pennsylvania event spaces and venues can increase their maximum occupancy limits again beginning on May 17, state officials announced Tuesday. Cassie Miller has the details.

And in a visit to a Berks County mushroom farm, state officials paid tribute to farm workers who kept food on the table during the pandemic, Miller also reports.

Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and dozens of other Pa. cities will share in federal recovery cash rolling out to states, cities & counties, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson writes, with an assist from me.

Philadelphia City Councilmember Kendra Brooks has accused Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration of lacking urgency in fulfilling its commitment to shifting some responsibilities out of the Philadelphia Police Department, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz takes a closer look at Pennsylvania’s politically fraught 2021 May ballot questions. And an industry expert argues that there’s a workforce crisis in human services that funding alone can’t fix.

Nearly half of all Philadelphia firefighters have not been vaccinated, the Inquirer reports, citing unions.
Carnegie-Mellon University will require students to be vaccinated this fall, the Post-Gazette reports.
A filmmaker has set out to catalogue the toll of gun violence in HarrisburgPennLive reports.
More than 100 Republicans, including Pennsylvania’s Charlie Dent and Tom Ridge, have threatened to split from the GOP if the party doesn’t shed the stranglehold of former President Donald Trump, the New York Times reports (via the Morning Call).
The Citizens’ Voice has the details on the last Luzerne County judicial candidates forum before the election.
Pennsylvania needs to wait for clearance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention before it can start vaccinating 12-15 year-olds, the York Daily Record reports.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:


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Former Gov. Ed Rendell has endorsed Democrat Carlos Vega for Philly District Attorney, WHYY-FM reports.
Pittsburgh voters will vote on a ballot measure banning ‘no-knock’ warrants. WESA-FM has an explainer.
An indictment in Erie federal court alleges that a Mercer County resident misused a $150,000 COVID-19 business loanGoErie reports.  
Local providers in Washington County are getting ready to vaccinate young people, the Observer-Reporter reports.
The Biden administration wants to offer more housing vouchers — many landlords won’t accept reports.
A landmark voting rights bill has moved closer to the floor of the U.S. Senate after going through an epic mark-up session on Tuesday, Talking Points Memo reports.

What Goes On.
The Senate comes in at 11 a.m. Here’s a look at the day’s committee and event schedule.
9 a.m., Senate Chamber: Senate Agriculture and Environmental Resources & Energy committees
9 a.m., Hearing Room 1, North Office Building: Senate Transportation Committee
9 a.m., Zoom: Legislative Budget & Finance Committee
9 a.m., 515 Irvis North: Local Government Commission
10 a.m., Capitol Fountain: Sens. Doug Mastriano and Cris Dush rally on a bill to make federal firearms laws unenforceable in Pennsylvania.
10 a.m., Zoom: Senate Democrats roll out their plan to spend American Rescue Plan money.
1 p.m, State College Municipal Authority, State College, Pa.: House Democratic Policy Committee
2 p.m., Keystone Learning Center, Keystone Building: Rep. Patty Kim and Democratic leaders on helping working families with the Pa. Rescue Plan.
Off the Floor, Senate Chamber: Senate Appropriations Committee
Off the Floor, Senate Chamber: Senate Rules & Executive Nominations Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
5:30 p.m.: 
Reception for Pa. Superior Court candidate Megan Sullivan. Admission runs $150 to $5,000.

Gov. Tom Wolf
, joined by a Democratic county commissioner and fire officials, heads to Cumberland County for an 11 a.m. stop at a local fire company, where he’ll talk about the impact of disaster declaration on communities.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Danielle Floyd in Senate Democratic Communications, and to regular reader, and my old boss, John Kirkpatrick, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations and enjoy the day, folks.

Heavy Rotation.
new compilation rounds up the legendary Joe Strummer’s post-Clash solo work. Here’s the stirring ‘Get Down, Moses.’

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
The Orioles lost 3-2 to the N.Y. Mets in inter-league play on Tuesday night. The O’s remain in last place, 5.5 gams out of first place in the AL East.

And now you’re up to date. 

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.