Cantor says GOP focused on 'employment, not unemployment'

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Friday signaled Republicans have little interest in extending emergency unemployment benefits and instead want to expand opportunities for the millions of people who are out of work.

Cantor was asked Friday by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) whether Republicans would call up a Democratic bill to extend the emergency benefits. Cantor didn't explicitly say "no," but said clearly that the GOP focus is not on an extension.

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"We have been trying to focus this Congress on getting back to a more optimistic view of what the economy can do," he said.

"It is about jobs; it is about growth. Our focus is about wanting people to get a job. It's on employment, not unemployment."

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has sounded a bit more open-minded on an extension and has said the GOP could consider it, if it were paid for and included provisions to help people find work.

Still, Cantor's latest remarks are the latest sign that the Senate would have to lead the charge on an extension of unemployment benefits. The outcome of those efforts has become uncertain after Senate Democrats proposed a one-year extension without giving Republicans a chance to offer their own ideas to pay for it.

That prompted Senate Republicans to try to push aside the Democratic plan, which failed. It also led to lengthy discussions on the Senate floor in which Republicans said Democrats were giving them no voice in the process.

Republicans have said for years now that the best way to improve the job situation is through deregulation. Today, Cantor seemed emboldened by the December jobs report, which said just 74,000 jobs were created in December, and that the labor force participation rate fell close to a 36-year low.

"These job numbers, this latest report this morning, reflect the lowest number of jobs added since January of 2011," Cantor said. "That doesn't speak well about the track record of what's going on here."

Cantor urged Hoyer and other Democrats to support the SKILLS Act, a bill the House passed last March that would streamline federal jobs programs. It would also create a Workforce Investment Fund to direct money to states to run their own job training programs.

But Cantor lamented that few Democrats supported the bill in March — in the final vote, only two Democrats voted with Republicans.

"I would ask the gentleman to join us in looking towards a more optimistic future for this country and economy, and focusing on employment and those who have been chronically out of work," Cantor said.