Washington’s Economic Disconnect

The December employment report issued by the Department of Labor found that the health care sector was responsible for one of every three new jobs created during the month.  This is not an aberration.  In 2012, as the economy still struggled to gain positive traction, more than 391,000 new healthcare jobs were created, making it the second most dynamic sector in job creation after professional services.  And most healthcare jobs tend to have higher-than-average salaries, leading to increased tax revenues.

That’s what makes the “fiscal cliff” bill passed by Congress, as the calendar turned to 2013, so perplexing.  Besides the tax increases and postponing the planned budget sequester, the measure included a number of financial boosts for various industries.  There was, among other goodies, $59 million for biofuels, $78 million for NASCAR and $222 million for Puerto Rican rum producers.

Even the motion picture industry (at more than $10 a pop for tickets, who knew Hollywood was an endangered business?) had $248 million dropped into its lap.

And yet, for a healthcare sector that is driving economic recovery, there were few good tidings.  Yes, the nation’s physicians avoided a massive cut in Medicare payments, but it was paid for by trimming hospitals’ already-thin financial margins.  The medical device tax that is literally eliminating jobs remained intact, as did the taxes and fees being assessed to other health sectors as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

One would think Washington’s decisionmakers would want to fuel a demonstrably-successful engine of job growth instead of putting on the brakes.

Then again, maybe we’ll see a better grade of movies in 2013.