By Mike Lillis - 06/04/11 02:29 PM EDT
House Democrats this week have amplified their calls for new spending on infrastructure and other federal projects in the face of May's discouraging job-creation figures.
Even as Republicans are insisting on "trillions" of dollars in spending cuts, Democrats maintain that a targeted injection of additional federal dollars in the near-term would go a long way toward reversing the hiring slump. Friday's disappointing job report, they say, only bolsters their case.
Other Democrats delivered a similar message on Friday. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said "the answer" to the lingering jobs crisis is "investment" in the "communities and businesses who need confidence and resources to hire [people]."
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said "investing in our communities goes hand in hand with full economic recovery."
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said that only in Washington is targeted new spending being demonized.
"Once you get outside the Beltway, almost everyone agrees that we should be rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and investing in clean American energy that reduces our dependence on oil," Blumenauer said.
The remarks are a stark contrast to the Republicans' plans to cut trillions of dollars in federal spending to bring down the nation's soaring deficits. Those deficits, they argue, have crippled the ability of the private sector to hire new workers. Friday's job report, the Republicans contend, is evidence that the Democrats' deficit-spending strategy has failed.
"If you talk to job creators around the country like we have, they’ll tell you all the over-taxing, over-regulating, and over-spending that’s going on in Washington is creating uncertainty and holding them back," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a press conference Friday.
"One look at the jobs report should be enough to show the White House it’s time to get serious about cutting spending and dealing with our ailing economy,” he said.
The spending debate was stirred up Friday by the Labor Department's report that the economy created only 54,000 jobs in May – about a quarter of the average job growth over the last three months. Of those, roughly 83,000 were created by the private sector. State and local governments have been shedding jobs for months, and that trend continued in May, the Labor Department found.
Leaders from both parties blamed the other side for the continued jobs crisis. Democrats flung charges that House Republicans have yet to bring a jobs bill to the floor this year, while GOP leaders countered with accusations that the 2009 economic stimulus bill was a flop.
"They passed a nearly $1 trillion stimulus bill which failed to get people back to work," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said last week of the $787 billion stimulus bill. That proposal featured $288 billion in tax benefits; $275 billion for energy and infrastructure projects; and $224 billion for safety-net programs.
Both sides have proposed legislative packages they say will spur job creation. Democrats are pushing their "Make It In America" agenda, a package of bills designed to increase manufacturing and discourage the outsourcing of jobs. It includes proposals to boost funding for airports, highways and high-speed rail, and also develops a national infrastructure development bank.
Republicans, meanwhile, have proposed to cut taxes, eliminate trade barriers and scale back federal regulations that the business lobby considers burdensome.
If the Democrats see the government as a necessary catalyst for economic recovery, the Republicans just want to get it out of the private sector's way.
Dennis Slater, president of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, a trade group, suggested Friday that the most effective strategy would incorporate elements of both approaches.
"Until Congress and the administration agree to make America's farmers and manufacturers a national priority by passing free trade agreements and investing in critical national infrastructure – both proven drivers of economic growth – unemployment will remain unacceptably high and our economy will continue to stagnate," Slater said in a statement.
Grijalva, the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the Democrats could be doing much more to convince the public of the merits of an increase in targeted spending.
"I don't know if it's a question of being able to sell it, or [that] we haven't fully embraced the concept as our own," he said. "It's a winner. I don't know for the life of me why we're not being more assertive on this point."