By Kristen Friend, staff U.S. Supreme Court and Congress writer – July 14, 2011
Challenges continue to mount for lawmakers on Capitol Hill, with a bleak June jobs report adding heat to ongoing arguments over budget priorities and a looming deadline for action on the debt ceiling. Congress has serious issues to address in the face of rising unemployment, rising deficits and continued financial uncertainty for many middle and working class Americans.
The summer has failed to bring relief from a steady stream of bad economic news. The official unemployment rate has risen to 9.2 percent.  The private sector is not creating the jobs needed to offset cuts in public sector employment. The 18,000 new jobs created in June fall far short of the roughly 125,000 needed each month to cover natural growth as new individuals enter the workforce. 
Jobs were a major issue during the 2010 midterm elections. The party in power never does well in an election when the country faces high unemployment, and 2010 was no exception. In a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in January, shortly after the ceremonial swearing in of the 112th Congress, 51 percent of respondents said that the economy and jobs was the most important problem facing the country. At 6 percent, the budget deficit and national debt came in as the second highest priority. 
Despite months of argument over budgets, spending, the national deficit and the debt ceiling, polls show very little shift in public opinion. A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted June 24 to June 28 asked the open-ended question, “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” The majority, 53 percent, chose the economy and jobs. The second-highest priority was again the national deficit/debt at 7 percent. 
The media is expending a tremendous amount of energy speculating about the debt ceiling, job creation and potential cuts to domestic programs. Crisis is in the air. Congress has a clear mandate to act on jobs, but lawmakers seem distracted by other issues.
Of the 23 bills passed by the 112th Congress and signed into law, one can marginally be referred to as a jobs bill. Congress has been most prolific at naming public buildings. Five new laws concern the official designation of post office branches and courthouses. The Smithsonian Institute received attention with three laws naming citizens to its Board of Regents. 
Congress has also been busy with five continuing appropriations bills, the Airport and Airway Extension Acts (parts I, II and III), a Surface Transportation Extension Act, an extension of programs under the Small Business Act of 1958 and two extensions of the PATRIOT Act.  In a move broadly supported by both parties, Congress repealed new reporting requirements for businesses that had been included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. 
The jobs bill, also an extension of a law currently on the books, aims to provide continued investment in small businesses. The Small Business Additional Temporary Extension Act of 2011 reauthorized the SBA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The SBIR and STTR programs allow the Department of Defense to invest in research and development at small technology companies. The fund provides up to $1 billion for investment in technologies that may benefit the DoD and the private sector. 
The House of Representatives has passed several ideologically driven measures that have very little chance of being introduced in the Senate, let alone passed and signed into law. One of the most famous, H.R.2 – Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act, was passed less than a month into the new session.  The House also tackled women’s health with H.R.3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, despite the fact that the Hyde Amendment already prohibits federal funding of abortions. 
Environmental legislation, most notably cap and trade, died last year. But the House did pass H.R.910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, which declassifies greenhouse gasses as a pollutant and prohibits the EPA “from promulgating any regulation concerning, taking action relating to, or taking into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas to address climate change.” 
That is not to say that jobs legislation has not been introduced... CONTINUE READING BELOW