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The Next Jobs Bill Will Focus on Training Programs

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Cantor has cited job-training legislation as a top priority. In a speech this week, he called on Congress to fix the “patchwork” of overlapping programs.

Republicans on the Education and the Workforce Committee are slated to introduce a bill to overhaul job-training programs in the coming weeks that will largely mirror the measure they pushed through the panel on a party-line vote last year, according to a committee spokeswoman.

That bill proposed consolidating 27 job-training programs into one large block grant to the states and would have allowed governors to merge additional programs if they had a “responsible” plan to do so. It would have required states to adopt a common set of performance measures to judge the success of all programs. And it would have required that two-thirds of the members of each local workforce board be employers, to help ensure that job training meets the needs of businesses.

Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., has been emphatic that the programs should be cut and streamlined. “In our bill in the last Congress, we were trying to get rid of a lot of redundancy,” Kline said. “We said we need to clean this up and make it easier.”

Committee Democrats opposed the GOP bill and will likely do so again. “That didn’t go over well,” ranking member George Miller, D-Calif., said. “Maybe they will continue their actions of the past, but that would be unfortunate.”

Democrats argue that consolidating programs into a block grant would shift money away from underserved populations, such as veterans or the homeless, that some of the training efforts were set up to help.

“There is some effort to narrow the stakeholders who can be involved,” Miller said. “That makes no sense. In their efforts to streamline it, I feel that they’re removing some accountability for difficult populations that may need different assistance.”

An alternative proposal he offered last year would enable local governments to contract with community colleges to train workers in sought-after skills, a priority for the Obama administration.

The Republican bill never reached the full House, but Kline is optimistic about its prospects now. “Where we set the table in the last Congress, I would expect us to go there and see if we can move really early,” he said. “We’ve done an awful lot of work and I think we can take advantage of it.”

Senators Seek National System

While such a partisan proposal stands little chance in the Senate, Murray and Isakson have renewed their efforts to write a bipartisan bill. They drafted a rewrite of the law during the previous Congress with HELP Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and then-ranking member Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo. They said they will use that proposal as a launching pad and have already begun working to finalize it.

“We just need to work out a couple of more things and hopefully we can move it quickly,” Harkin said. “Just two or three things remain an issue, but nothing that we can’t work out.”

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