By Walter Alarkon - 01/09/10 02:02 PM EST
President Barack Obama and top Democrats are seizing on
weaker-than-expected December employment data to strengthen their push
for more spending on job-creation programs.
Friday's Labor Department report showed the economy lost 85,000 jobs in December, far more than the 10,000 jobs some economists had expected would be lost. The unemployment rate remained 10 percent, but the rate would have gone up if nearly 700,000 workers hadn’t left the labor market.
Obama has urged Congress to pass a jobs package that includes new infrastructure spending, aid to small businesses, funding for state and local governments struggling to keep workers and incentives for green investments. On Friday, he also called on them to include $5 billion to expand a tax credit for manufacturers who invest in clean energy technologies.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the December jobs report should push leaders to recognize that saving and creating jobs should be their “top priority.”
“Signs of growth in recent months will not restore the security of lost paychecks or reassure families still struggling to make ends meet,” she said in a statement. “We must take action to keep our economy on the road to recovery.”
The House late last month approved a $174 billion measure made up largely of infrastructure spending and fiscal aid to stave off public worker layoffs. The Senate is still crafting its version of the jobs bill.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin's (D-Ill.) office has said the Senate bill will likely include funding for infrastructure projects, energy efficiency programs, public services and small business loans. Durbin has said that the bill will be taken up soon after the Senate returns later this month.
The push for new jobs measures comes after months dominated by the healthcare debate and a holiday recess in which national security policies returned to the spotlight because of an attempted terrorist attack.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called on the Obama administration Friday to stop “wildly pivoting” from issue to issue and to instead focus on the economy. He and other GOP members have been blasting the Democrats' for seeking a “son of stimulus,” another package similar to the $787 billion stimulus criticized by fiscal conservatives for failing to keep the unemployment rate below 10 percent.
“A jobless recovery is a far cry from what the American people were promised last winter when Washington Democrats jammed through a trillion-dollar stimulus that they said would create jobs immediately,” Boehner said in a statement.
Democrats defending large majorities in the House and Senate in mid-term elections this November are facing pressure to do something, but it's unclear whether any of their efforts will bring the jobless rate down significantly within the next few months given the worst recession in decades.
"It's not that to me the money isn't there, it's that the confidence isn't there for consumption and spending and investment," said William Hoagland, a former top Senate GOP budget aide who is now vice president of public policy for health insurer Cigna Corp. “I guess I don't know what it is politically one can do to increase that confidence."
Labor unions and liberal economists have been urging the administration and Democratic leaders to ignore calls to rein in spending, saying that the stimulus wasn't large enough. They've been calling for a new jobs package since last summer, when the unemployment rate began to approach 10 percent.
"December's jobs report is an ominous sign of the deep and continued suffering by working families who want to work but can't find jobs, despite tentative signs of renewed economic growth," said Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president.
He added that the country is at risk of falling into another recession if lawmakers don't enact job creation measures immediately.