Dems try to avoid overselling jobs bill

Democrats are lowering expectations for their jobs bill in the hopes of forestalling Republican criticism.

Lawmakers and administration officials alike have largely avoided talk of how many jobs their various proposals will create. It's unlike last year, when the Obama administration argued for its $787 billion stimulus by saying it would keep the jobless rate from rising far beyond 8 percent. The current rate is 9.7 percent, down slightly from its 10.2 percent peak in October.

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The latest White House economic estimates, released last week, are far gloomier than last year's, predicting an average of 10 percent unemployment this year, 9.2 percent next year and 8.2 percent in 2012. Those rates, which account for the effect of the jobs bill favored by the president, are slightly higher than those projected by the Blue Chip consensus of independent economists.

White House economist Christina Romer said Friday that the same models were used to project unemployment rates in both years and that the administration made no attempt to shade them toward the high or low end of other projections.

But Democratic lawmakers backing the jobs bill push said they need to avoid repeating last year's mistake of overselling the stimulus, a fact that Republicans have seized on to undermine its impact.

"I think the White House would much rather at a press conference respond to a question saying, 'Well, we did much better than we projected,' than saying we thought, 'We were going to bring it down to 8.2 [percent] and things didn't go well,'" said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).

Republicans are keen to tie any new jobs efforts to a stimulus bill that has become unpopular. A New York Times/CBS poll found that just 6 percent of Americans believe that it created jobs, even though independent economists estimate that it has saved or created more than 1 million jobs.

House Republicans, who voted en bloc against the stimulus, have deemed the House Democrats' $154 billion jobs bill for new infrastructure spending, state fiscal aid and unemployment benefits the "Son of Stimulus."

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said that the $15 billion Senate jobs measure being pushed by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wouldn't do much to create jobs and that Democrats should instead focus on cutting government spending and deficits projected to average $856 billion over the next five years. Reid's bill, which will be taken up by the Senate when they return from next week's recess, features a tax break for firms that hire new workers, an idea that also has President Barack Obama's backing.

"The way to get jobs in this country is to get the government's fiscal house in order," Gregg said Friday on MSNBC. "The message that that would send to the markets... would be significant and people would be willing to step up and take a risk on our economy if they knew the federal government wasn't going to bankrupt us."

The jobs tax credit, championed by Obama, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, according to an independent analysis. Obama's plan, which would cost $33 billion, would create almost 727,000 new jobs, while Schumer and Hatch's $11.7 billion would lead to about 250,000 new jobs, according to Mark Zandi, the Moody's economist who has advised both Democratic and Republican senators.

Those job gains would replace only a small portion of the more than 8 million jobs lost since the recession started in December 2007.

Some House Democrats facing tough re-election races this fall see the danger in passing new measures that could be portrayed as too small or ineffective.

"Is it efficacious? Is it going to create jobs in a reasonable time frame that otherwise wouldn't be created by a rebounding economy?" said Rep. Gerry Connolly (Va.), the president of the freshman House Democrats, who voted against the $154 billion jobs bill. "You know, that's to me, a big question."