By MAREN WRIGHT
WASHINGTON (Feb. 6, 2009)—Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley joined former Labor Secretary Robert Reich Friday as part of the squad dispatched to lobby for Senate passage of the stimulus bill, saying joblessness will only worsen if the Senate fails to act immediately.
"January job numbers confirm our worst fears," Reich said.
Unemployment rates soared in January as the economy shed 598,000 jobs, according to a report Friday from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This brings job losses to 3.6 million since the recession began in December 2007, with almost half of those occurring in the past three months.
These numbers prompted new urgency among supporters of the stimulus bill. During a conference call with O'Malley, sponsored by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Reich said the magnitude of the proposed bill being debated in the Senate is the least we need to get the economy moving again.
"The stimulus is extremely and appropriately targeted at getting people back to work," Reich said.
Maryland's economy has fared better than other states in the current recession. Maryland's December jobless rate of 5.8 percent is lower than the current national rate of 7.6 percent. But staff at the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation said new jobless claims were rising.
O'Malley joined the chorus of voices demanding swift action in Washington, fearing the $1.9 billion in cuts and spending reductions in his proposed state budget will add to the state's economic challenges.
The Democratic governor joined Vice President Joe Biden, as well as the state and U.S. transportation secretaries, in Laurel on Thursday to tout the transportation projects due to be funded by the stimulus.
O'Malley is counting on stimulus dollars to assuage the state's budget woes. Maryland stands to gain nearly $3.5 billion from the House authorized version of the stimulus, money that would mean the retention of 100,000 Maryland jobs, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office.
"It's a shame that the same people who drove our economy into a ditch are the same ones that are trying to derail this," O'Malley said.
The House passed its stimulus bill without a single Republican vote. In the Senate, the bill has been under attack from a variety of fronts, including those with concerns about its cost and the inclusion of pet projects.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, is among those who see the bill as creating more problems than it solves.
"It is selfish to try to solve economic problems we created by burdening future generations, unborn generations, with government spending programs that have never before worked to strengthen the economy."
Dissenters are not all Republicans. In the House, 11 Democrats joined Republicans in opposing the stimulus, including freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil, D-Stevensville.
O'Malley and supporters are doing their best to win support for the bill.
"If we can get this passed," O'Malley said, "it will be a tremendous tool in the arsenal."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.