By Russell Berman, Jared Allen and J. Taylor Rushing - 07/15/10 04:29 PM EDT
While trying to mend ties between her caucus and the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi turned her ire toward the Senate on Thursday, blaming upper-chamber delays in passing the Democratic agenda for the disappointing jobs picture heading into the midterm elections.
“If we had healthcare sooner, if we had energy sooner, if we had an education bill sooner — they are all three pillars of job creation, and that would have resulted in more jobs created by now,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Thursday at her weekly press conference.
While Democrats have boasted about turning job losses into gains, party leaders acknowledge that the economic recovery has not progressed fast enough, leaving Democrats vulnerable at the ballot box in November. Pelosi put the onus squarely on the protracted legislative battles that stalled the Democratic agenda for months.
She praised the $787 billion economic stimulus package, which Democrats enacted a month into President Obama’s term. Though economists credit the bill with creating jobs and preventing a steeper freefall, the public is not convinced, polls show.
“We feel confident and proud of the Recovery Act,” Pelosi said.
Democrats touted their priority legislation on healthcare and energy as job boosters passed by the House within Obama’s first year in office. But amid delays in the Senate, the legislative battle dragged on, meaning voters will see only a limited impact from the healthcare bill and perhaps no energy legislation at all.
The Senate bottleneck has heightened tensions with the House, and leaders in the lower chamber have been increasingly willing to air those complaints in public in recent months. Pelosi sharply criticized Senate inaction on jobs legislation and an extension of unemployment benefits, both passed by the House, at press conferences earlier this month.
A spokesman for the Speaker, Nadeam Elshami, pointed to a study projecting that the healthcare law could create 250,000 to 400,000 jobs a year, although many of the provisions in the legislation do not take effect immediately. He also cited a study by the liberal Center for American Progress projecting as many as 1.7 million clean-energy jobs as a result of congressional action, although the report acknowledges that many of those jobs would not be created right away.
Senators on Thursday pushed back on the suggestion that delays in their chamber had resulted in lackluster job creation. “I’m not sure it’s causal,” Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who caucuses with Democrats, said of Pelosi’s comments. “Healthcare was very difficult over here for [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid [D-Nev.], and I just think there were other causes for the economic downturn.”
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said one solution around the legislative gridlock might be for the Senate to take up legislation first, instead of the House.
“People have to understand things always take longer in the Senate,” Landrieu said.
Others blamed Republicans for slowing legislation at every turn. “Yes, healthcare reform dragged on much too long, but here’s the bottom line: The Republican strategy from day one — and I respect how open they are about it — is to obstruct everything that’s happening. Drag it on, drag it on, and give no support,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats.
“There is absolutely no reason to think that the White House has been anything but cooperative with us in terms of our difficult efforts to retain control of Congress,” Pelosi said Thursday.
Asked if President Obama would be doing more campaigning for her endangered majority, the Speaker replied: “More than he has? Certainly.”
Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders met at the White House on Wednesday night with Obama to discuss the remaining legislative agenda.
Gibbs’s remarks stung many House Democrats already deeply frustrated with a White House they see as underappreciative of their legislative efforts. Polls that suggest Democrats could be in for a historic drubbing in November’s midterm elections added to the simmering tensions.
Those concerns were not aired during Wednesday’s meeting with Obama, Pelosi said.
“Members have some concerns about jobs, and that’s the conversation we had yesterday with the president,” she said.
The speaker reiterated her belief that Gibbs’s comment was “unfortunate,” but dismissed the idea it was reflective of a breakdown of any kind between the House and the administration.
“We have no better leader or advocate on behalf of working families,” she said of Obama.
“The comment can be interpreted many ways,” Pelosi said. “I think it was a Rorschach test. But from our standpoint, we’re very pleased with what the White House and the president has been doing and with what they’re going to continue to do.”
Aboard Air Force One on Thursday, Gibbs quoted the president as saying the meeting with House Democrats was “quite productive.”
“As I said yesterday, the House and Senate have done a lot of work in the last two years in advancing an agenda they can be proud of,” Gibbs said.
This story was originally posted at 12:39 p.m. and updated at 8:14 p.m.