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Many union leaders grumble that they are being unfairly called upon to fight a battle that Washington should be waging, and are demanding that the Administration take some action to curb the recession. AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland last month blasted Reagan's economic program as "a hodgepodge of crank monetarism and bizarre macroeconomic nostrums," and urged the White House to take immediate steps to ease unemployment. Among the AFL-CIO'S recommendations: revive the emergency local public works program, budgeted at $6 billion in 1975 but not funded since then; restore CETA public service jobs; and create a new reconstruction finance corporation that would extend loans, loan guarantees and tax benefits to hard-hit companies in basic industries. The union also wants to get more help for the long-term jobless by renewing the 13 weeks of nationwide unemployment benefits that the Administration canceled last year.
Kirkland's call for action is being echoed in Congress, but members are divided on what should be done. Senators Kennedy and Quayle defend their $4 billion jobs program bill as sufficiently different from the much criticized CETA program to make it worthwhile. Their bill would forbid local governments to use the federal funds to hire their own employees, such as policemen or firemen. Local businesses would also have a say in setting up job-training programs, thus ensuring that prospective employees were not trained in skills that were no longer in demand.
Many Congressmen and economists reject the remedy of job programs to cure unemployment. "It's like trying to put a Band-Aid on a cancer after it's already grown, instead of preventing it in the first place," says Democratic Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey. Observes Barry Bosworth, an economist at the Brookings Institution: "A federal job program inevitably turns into nothing more than an income-maintenance program, for the simple reason that when workers graduate from training programs, there are still no jobs for them. In a couple of months, 10 million people are going to be unemployed. To talk of job training is ridiculous. It's a flim-flam." Charles Schultze, who was chairman of President Carter's Council of Economic Advisers, argues that job programs "wouldn't make much of a dent" in recession. One traditional problem is that Congress usually votes for such programs in the middle of a recession, but by the time the money gets around the country the economy has recovered and the added federal spending merely fuels inflation.