Democrats try to pivot to jobs agenda


The White House and congressional Democrats on Tuesday tried to turn the page on a debt-ceiling fight that split the party and left liberals furious with President Obama. 

Senate and House Democratic leaders held press conferences after the Senate approved the debt-ceiling deal to tout the importance of moving to jobs, while Obama, in Rose Garden comments, lamented a “manufactured crisis” that he said had made the economy worse. 

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“It’s pretty likely that the uncertainty surrounding the raising of the debt ceiling, for both businesses and consumers, has been unsettling, and just one more impediment to the full recovery that we needed,” Obama said. “And it was something that we could have avoided entirely.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a day after describing the debt deal as a “Satan sandwich” with a side of “Satan fries,” said she was done talking about deficits. 

“Enough talks about the debt, we have to talk about jobs,” Pelosi said at a press conference, surrounded by other Democratic leaders. 

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) echoed Pelosi. 

“With this debt-reduction package completed, the decks are now clear for a single-minded focus on jobs in September,” said Schumer, the messaging chief for Senate Democrats. “The jobs issue won’t have to play second fiddle to the deficit issue anymore.”

Obama called on Congress to extend the payroll tax reduction included in a deal last December that extended the Bush tax rates. He also urged Congress to extend federal unemployment benefits, to create a national infrastructure bank, to approve three stalled trade deals and to move a patent reform bill, all of which he said would create jobs and put money in consumers’ pockets. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he would seek to move the patent bill when the Senate returns in September. 

Left unsaid was the fact that Obama and Democrats failed to include any measures to stimulate the economy when they had the leverage of the debt-ceiling talks. Democrats held out hope of including provisions to spark the economy in the package signed Tuesday by Obama, but ended up happy to at least backload most of the bill’s spending cuts to 2013 and beyond. 

Just this summer, Reid had pushed to include stimulus in the debt package. 

In June, he asked Senate committee chairmen to submit jobs proposals for the deficit package by Aug. 1. Reid asked that they focus on “policies to build bridges and dams and water systems and sewer systems” along with tax incentives to get businesses to hire new employees. 

Reid’s office did not respond to a question about whether those recommendations were ever made.

Republicans on Tuesday shot down several of Obama’s suggestions, and Democrats said they saw little opportunity for extending unemployment insurance or the payroll tax holiday. 

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and GOP conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) said there is no appetite for extending either the payroll tax or the unemployment benefits. Kyl also dismissed the idea of a national infrastructure bank.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he is focused on reducing regulation and passing the trade agreements, which are being held up over a dispute between congressional Republicans and the White House over an assistance program for workers who lose their jobs because of plant closures due to trade. 

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said that with the debt agreement in place, it is no longer possible to throw money at the economy, and that it will be “very difficult” to find ways to pay for stimulating measures.

Asked how the differences can be overcome and jobs bills can be passed, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said, “I just don’t know.”

Schumer and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said Democrats will be refining their jobs agenda over the August recess.

House Democrats are pushing their “Make it in America” agenda, a series of bills designed to create jobs by boosting domestic manufacturing, investing in infrastructure projects and discouraging companies from outsourcing.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) noted that China invests 9 percent of its GDP in infrastructure, while India invests 5 percent. The figure for the United States, she said, is less than 2 percent. 

“We have to go back to being a country that builds things, rather than one that just consumes goods that are produced overseas,” said DeLauro, a champion of the public-private infrastructure bank. “This is a nation that’s been built on bricks and mortar and fiber-optics, and we’ve got to get back to doing that again.”

Democrats also attacked House GOP leaders for skipping town before passage of legislation ending a partial shutdown of federal aviation programs. The shutdown has furloughed almost 4,000 employees, who could be out of work until at least September.

“That is a perfect example of the politics — not of persuasion, not of compromise, of coming together — but the politics of confrontation,” said Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip.