Republicans Are Talking Job Training

January 13, 2014

Everyone in the U.S. Capitol was talking about the War on Poverty last week, with Republicans and Democrats brandishing enough dueling talking points to fuel a bonfire. Somewhere in this rhetorical miasma, I couldn't help but pick up a new theme running through the Republicans' line of thinking. They are talking about job training.

It started with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., as the Senate was preparing to vote on unemployment compensation Tuesday. Alexander said there is a lot more that Congress could be doing to help people get back to work. Then he mentioned one of the most ignored pieces of legislation that I've encountered in 15 years of covering Congress–the Workforce Investment Act. WIA, which sets up local workforce boards to help direct training programs to local job markets, was signed into law by President Clinton in 1998 and has yet to be revisited.

Both the House and Senate have worked on legislation to update WIA, but the two bills differ widely in their direction. The House, which passed its last year, would consolidate the program significantly. The National Skills Coalition opposes the House bill because the legislation would reduce job training funding by $1 billion. The Senate bill is a bipartisan effort, with Alexander as one of the sponsors along with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. It does not consolidate programs, which will cause several Republicans to oppose it.