Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The two frontrunners in the U.S. Senate race are promising voters new employment opportunities, which this fall’s loser may actually need next year.

Both David Vitter and Charlie Melancon say they would create more jobs for Louisiana as the state’s next junior U.S. senator, but they differ on how best to achieve that shared goal. They also hope their ideas will help convince voters to support their campaigns in the Nov. 2 general election.

Melancon, a Democratic congressman who represents portions of Acadiana, released a plan last month dubbed “Putting Louisiana Jobs First,” which calls for everything from cutting taxes and increasing energy investments to more resources for education and fiscal responsibility.

Vitter, the Republican incumbent since 2004, has labeled it a “hodgepodge and unorganized” plan but hasn’t offered a similar proposal from his campaign yet. “My top priority is to help create jobs,” Vitter says, “starting with not increasing taxes in the middle of a recession, particularly on small businesses and job creators.”

He says there is a “widespread economic consensus” on this guiding job-creation philosophy, “including President Obama’s recently retired [Office of Management and Budget] director and the Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.”

While Vitter favors an on-the-ground approach and some policy initiatives, Melancon’s plan relies largely on action by Congress and regulatory changes, on which the two have plenty to disagree.

Most recently, Melancon has been lobbing bombs at Vitter for throwing up roadblocks to a small business jobs bill, expected to create 500,000 new positions through $30 billion in venture credit. Republicans contend only a small percentage of business owners would feel any benefit.

Vitter, on the other hand, is sending volleys Melancon’s way for standing with President Obama in wanting to alter the tax cuts implemented by former President George W. Bush so that middle class taxpayers continue to see a decrease and top earners a new increase. Vitter and the GOP want to make the tax cuts permanent across the board.
  
Vitter says the biggest difference on jobs between him and Melancon can be found in Obama’s 2009 stimulus package. The senator has repeatedly slammed Melancon for supporting the package; Melancon counters that the stimulus saved 3 million jobs nationally and the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal continues to seek dollars from the program.

As for a better solution, Vitter notes that he helped introduce the “No Cost Stimulus Act of 2009,” which he says had the potential to create more than 2 million jobs and $10 trillion in gross domestic product over the next 20 years without borrowing. He still favors the concept today. Here’s how it would work: the domestic energy supply would be expanded and environmental review processes streamlined.

Chiefly, the bulk of the money would be generated by opening up closed areas of the Outer Continental Shelf of the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve for energy exploration and production. “However, a number of my colleagues may have trouble understanding the concept of stimulating the economy without borrowing several hundred billion dollars from China,” Vitter says.

As for real world experience, Vitter was a private attorney in Metairie before moving into elected office — the state House — in 1992. Melancon, a native of Napoleonville, served in the state House as well during the late 1980s and went on to serve as the chief lobbyist on the state and federal level for the American Sugar Cane League. But Melancon is likewise a businessman who has created jobs. He once ran an insurance agency and owned a small chain of Baskin Robbins ice cream stores.

Then there’s Melancon’s proposal, which places a large spotlight on small businesses — and rightly so, the congressman says. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, more than 64 percent of the new jobs created during the last two decades were in businesses with fewer than 500 employees. “The government doesn’t create jobs; small businesses create jobs,” Melancon says. “Government should provide small businesses the tools they need to create jobs and succeed-and then get out of the way.”

Melancon says he developed the five-point plan during his recent travels across the state while visiting with small business owners. It weighs in at more than nine pages containing 3,100 words. In the plan, Melancon favors:

• Extending a program that gives small businesses a one-time $1,000 tax credit for hiring a previously unemployed worker for at least one year
• Increasing the deduction for small business startup costs
• New resources, like loan consolidations, and relief for small businesses impacted by the recent BP oil spill and hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike
• Creating tax credits for small businesses that hire veterans
• Additional funding for education, more job training programs and targeted investments in math and science
• Making college more affordable for veterans and others by expanding Pell Grants and financial aid programs
• Extending unemployment insurance
• Equal pay and workplace rights for women
• Implementing “pay-as-you-go” budgeting rules in Congress
• Passing a balanced budget amendment

As for Vitter’s on-the-ground approach, that was seen most recently in the August announcement of 600 new jobs at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans for the manufacturing of renewable energy wind turbines. Vitter says he worked behind the scenes with Louisiana Economic Development and federal agencies to get the deal moving during a time when Michoud’s future has been all but uncertain. “I’m hopeful that with the jobs we’ve helped create on this project and the provisions I secured in the recent NASA reauthorization bill, Michoud will be here for a long time,”
Vitter says.

The deal allows Blade Dynamics to manufacture advanced wind turbine blades and wind turbine components at Michoud. Vitter says he helped secure the deal by personally asking NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to approve a permit allowing the private company to use the Michoud facility. Blade Dynamics already has a presence at the facility and plans to create 600 new jobs by 2015, along with nearly 1,000 new and indirect jobs.

Melancon, for his part, says he has supported green energy incentives in Congress to help growing companies like Blade Dynamics expand and create new jobs. For example, Melancon says he supported related tax credits in Obama’s stimulus plan and backed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, which renewed the production tax credit for wind energy companies.

While both candidates have different ideas about how to create jobs for Louisiana, Melancon and Vitter are probably more interested in just one job — that of junior U.S. senator. That gig, however, is not controlled by the fiscal tap of the Beltway. It’s doled out by voters, whose expectations for jobs will only grow as the state’s economy goes into the tank.

Jeremy Alford can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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