With 1.6 million fewer private sector jobs than at the start of President Obama's administration, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday that it's critical to pass legislation for hiring teachers and police because public sector employees are losing their jobs while "private sector jobs have been doing just fine."
Speaking on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Reid was lamenting the complaints from opponents of a 5 percent tax on people who make more than $1 million a year, and offered his take on the need to pass the $35 billion stimulus portion of President Obama's American Jobs Act, which includes funding for municipal and state workers.
The president's jobs plan failed to get approval in the Senate last week as a whole package, and Reid announced earlier this week that he would bring up the stimulus call for a vote as soon as possible.
"The massive layoffs we have had in America today, of course, are rooted in the last administration, and it is very clear that private sector jobs are doing just fine. It's the public sector jobs where we have lost huge numbers, and that's what this legislation is all about," he said.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, during President Obama's term, the number of government employees has dropped by 607,000 since January 2009 and 905,000 since April 2010, at the peak of government hiring for the 2010 Census.
Since the president's January 2009 inauguration, total private sector employment has dropped by 1.6 million, though 2.5 million jobs have been added to the private sector since the term low in February 2010.
In September, 103,000 new jobs were created, including the return of 45,000 striking telecommunications workers. The private sector gains of 137,000 jobs was offset by the loss of 34,000 government jobs in the month.
But BLS noted that while 57,000 new jobs were created in August, as the school year started back up again, 42,000 were in the private sector while 15,000 were government jobs.
With a steady 9.1 percent unemployment rate nationally, and more than 13 percent in Reid's home state, the comment sent Republicans skittering, with the Senate Republican Conference issuing a release that called Reid "disconnected from reality" and sending out a video with a montage of Reid's comment butted against news reports talking about sluggish hiring.
"Unemployment is over 9 percent and 1.5 million jobs have been lost since Democrats passed their first stimulus. Republicans want to make it easier and cheaper to create private sector jobs while Democrats are trying to raise taxes on small businesses so that government can spend more," said a Republican leadership aide.
Republican staff from the Senate Finance Committee also said it would be difficult for Reid "to be more wrong" since as a percentage, more jobs have been lost in the private sector than in government since the start of the recession in December 2007.
"Bottom line: Private sector jobs have been greater both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the pre-recession base than government sector jobs," the aides said.
Asked about the senator's statement, Reid's spokesman defended it as accurate.
"All he was doing was pointing out that most job losses in recent months have been coming from the public sector," said Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson, noting that the president's jobs bill "contains tons of provisions to encourage private sector hiring," including tax credits for small businesses and write-offs for expenses.
"The bill currently on the floor is about cops and firefighters, and that was what he was talking about. (Reid), of course, thinks we need to spur hiring in the private sector," Jentleson added.
In his remarks, Reid also suggested that it's irrelevant whether House Republicans have passed a lot of bills, as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell noted to rebut claims Republicans have no jobs ideas.
"I would also note that my friend said the House passed another bill. Well, they pass lots of bills, but they rarely go any place. A report led by (Rep.) Henry Waxman of California, a long-time member of the House, indicated last week that the house has voted 168 times to roll back regulations on clean air, clean water," he said.
Republicans argue that rolling back regulations would spur businesses to hire.