By Mike Lillis - 09/07/11 12:20 AM EDT
House Democrats are upping the pressure on President Obama to ignore conservative critics and fight harder for the party’s jobs agenda.
Obama is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress on Thursday to unveil his strategy for putting Americans back to work — a high-stakes speech as the nation’s unemployment rate remains above 9 percent with no relief in sight.
“We send a message to the president: Mr. President, in two days, be bold — hit it out of the park,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a member of the deficit-slashing supercommittee, told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday. “The American public is waiting for that leadership.”
Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat and another member of the deficit panel, sounded a similar note, saying his constituents — particularly those in regions of high unemployment — are waiting for Congress to step in with significant help. Deficit cuts, Clyburn suggested, are an afterthought relative to finding work.
“These people didn’t want to hear me talking about cuts,” Clyburn said. “They want to see us focus on jobs.”
Many Democrats have been disillusioned with Obama since December, when the president conceded to GOP demands and extended the Bush-era tax rates for even the wealthiest Americans — a move strongly opposed by party liberals, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Pelosi on Tuesday backed Obama’s recent statements on jobs and the economy, singling out his support for legislation to help returning veterans find jobs. Still, Pelosi also attacked the GOP argument that the quickest way to create jobs is to cut spending — a challenge for Obama to do the same.
“To create jobs, you have to make some investments,” Pelosi said.
It won’t be easy. Behind House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Republicans have mocked the Democrats’ 2009 economic stimulus bill as ineffective. In a letter to Obama on Tuesday, Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) reiterated that opposition, saying that “a large, deficit-financed, government spending bill was not the best way to improve our economic situation or create sustainable growth in employment.”
“Given the current unemployment and deficit numbers, we believe our concerns have been validated,” they wrote.
But many Democrats say the jobs issue is the right place for Obama to take a stand.
“The president has demonstrated his willingness to compromise,” Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said. “Now he needs to show his ability to fight.”
Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said Obama’s speech Thursday lends him the chance “to show leadership and make some change instead of merely tinkering in the margins.”
“With $2.2 trillion in unmet infrastructure needs, we cannot expect the private sector to invest in our economic future if the government won’t,” Moran said in an email. “Thursday will be an opportunity to give Democrats across the country a reason to work hard for his reelection.”
Not that Democrats think Thursday’s speech will change any minds in Congress. But they’re hoping the president’s message will reverberate with voters, who might pressure GOP leaders to accept some elements of the Democrats’ legislative wish list.
“This is about persuading the American public,” said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.).
Obama, in recent weeks, has amplified his calls for Congress to extend unemployment insurance benefits and a payroll-tax holiday, both of which are slated to expire at the end of the year. But liberal Democrats have hammered the president for the latter, warning that extending the tax holiday steals funding from the Social Security program, thereby undermining future benefits.
Garamendi, one such critic, said he’s fully expecting Obama to promote the payroll tax holiday Thursday. But the California Democrat was quick to add that he wouldn’t vote against a larger package based on that provision alone.
“I expect him to propose a very bold, comprehensive jobs program,” he said.
A number of Democrats — including Reps. Dennis Cardoza (Calif.) and Bill Pascrell (N.J.) — are urging Obama to focus part of his high-profile speech on the lingering foreclosure crisis.
Cardoza, a conservative-leaning Blue Dog, has pressed the White House for years to take bolder steps to help homeowners still swamped after the housing bubble burst — a leading cause of the Great Recession. Cardoza is urging Obama on Thursday to push legislation allowing homeowners with loans backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to refinance in order to take advantage of historically low interest rates.
Three cities in Cardoza’s Central Valley district rank among the hardest hit by the nation’s housing bust — a situation Cardoza referred to as “nothing short of an economic disaster.”
“Quite simply, the foreclosure and economic crisis affecting the Valley I love has reached a catastrophic level, and nothing short of a major refinancing initiative from the federal government will stem this crisis,” Cardoza wrote last week in a letter to the president.
Rep. Jim Cooper had a more cynical message. The Tennessee Democrat and Blue Dog, suggested the partisanship in Washington is so pronounced that Obama’s words Thursday won’t have much effect on the sniping that’s marked the year.
“Congress is the toughest audience in the world, so I wonder why presidents even want to speak to us,” Cooper said in an email. “Almost all members already have their talking points in mind, before the president has even drafted his speech.”