The good news is, Congress’ Joint Economic Committee held a hearing yesterday on a chronic national problem in need of meaningful policy solutions: long-term unemployment. As the Huffington Post reported yesterday, long-term jobless rates are at their worst point in the post-World War II era.
And while I’m glad the Joint Economic Committee agreed to take the issue seriously enough to hold a hearing, the bad news is, most of the committee’s members didn’t care enough to show up.
It stands to reason that lawmakers who often decry the high jobless rate would want to be seen publicly trying to tackle the problem, right? Well, apparently not.
When a hearing to explore how to get the long-term unemployed back to work kicked off on Wednesday morning, only one lawmaker was in attendance. That was Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was holding the hearing in her role as the vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee. The Joint Economic Committee is one of a handful of committees whose members come from both parties and both houses of Congress.
Yep, by the time the hearing began, Klobuchar was literally the only lawmaker in the room. In time, she was joined by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). The committee has 20 members – 10 from the House, 10 from the Senate – and 16 of them failed to make an appearance, including every Republican member of the panel.
For context, it’s worth noting that members have busy schedules, and it’s routine for lawmakers to skip hearings, come late, or leave early. I imagine some of the Joint Economic Committee’s members had good excuses for missing yesterday’s discussion.
But that doesn’t change the sad spectacle on display. When members of Congress consider an issue important, they show up for the hearings, at least making an appearance to demonstrate some level of interest.
Put it this way: if you’d told congressional Republicans that Benghazi would have been a topic of conversation, their attendance almost certainly wouldn’t have been 0 for 10.
For too many lawmakers, the long-term unemployment isn’t a top-tier issue worthy of their time. Members who failed to attend missed testimony from a Republican economist and former Mitt Romney advisor who called this issue a “national emergency.”
There are policy solutions Congress can consider to address the emergency, but it’s hard to even think about remedies when so many lawmakers seem reluctant to acknowledge that a problem exists.