By Mike Lillis - 01/05/12 07:08 PM EST
New year. Same message.
In their first public address of 2012, House Democratic leaders Thursday ripped into Republicans for ignoring President Obama’s jobs package amid a lingering unemployment crisis.
"The American people need jobs, and we’re not on the job," said Pelosi, flanked by more than two-dozen other Democrats in the Capitol. "Where are [Republicans]? I don’t know. Where should they be? Right here in this Capitol getting to work."
The Democrats used the one-year anniversary of the Republicans’ takeover of the House to question why GOP leaders have resisted new education, infrastructure and public works funding – all part of Obama’s plan to create jobs.
"One year in office and no significant jobs bill," Pelosi said.
House Republicans were quick to push back, noting that they’ve already passed — and Obama has already signed — at least three proposals considered job-creators even by Democrats: a free-trade pact with South Korea, a veterans jobs bill and patent reform.
"House Republicans are focused on the American people’s top priority: jobs," Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), wrote in an email anticipating the Democrats’ news conference. "House Democratic Leaders know that, since they praised House-passed jobs bills last year.
"Amnesia is not a jobs plan."
The debate hinges largely on a fundamental disagreement between the two parties about the power of the federal government to stimulate the economy and chip away at a stubbornly high unemployment rate.
Republicans believe the government is largely an impediment to private-sector success. They’ve pushed for tax cuts, a decrease in federal spending and the elimination of regulations they say are preventing businesses from hiring new workers.
Democrats, on the other hand, subscribe to the theory that, in a down economy, the government should be active, hiking near-term spending for the sake of long-term stability — the Keynesian model applied most famously in the wake of the Great Depression.
"There is a great opportunity here," Rep. John Larson (Conn.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Thursday. "All we have to do is seize on the president’s plan and put this country back to work."
The Democrats on Thursday also focused on the looming, end-of-February deadline for Congress to extend the popular payroll-tax holiday, continue emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed and prevent Medicare doctors from being hit with a steep pay cut. They noted that Congress has flirted dangerously with similar deadlines over the last year, and suggested that the members of the bipartisan conference committee — named last month to iron out a deal on the three provisions — get to work right away.
Democratic leaders sought to paint a distinction between themselves — already in Washington discussing the package — and GOP leaders, who remain on holiday break.
"The Democratic House conferees have been meeting. We’re ready to work," said Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee and a member of the conference panel. "[But] no conference meeting has been called yet, and we hope one will be called very, very soon.
"We need to avoid a return to brinksmanship. We have less than two months and we’re here to say we don’t want this to go down to the last hour once again."
Leaders from both parties agreed the three provisions need to be extended beyond their March expiration. The sticking point has been over how to pay for them.
Several Democratic members of the conference committee — including Levin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) — declined to specify how they hoped to offset the tax package, saying only that everything should remain on the table.
"The costs need to be covered — that’s going to be a discussion that we all have," Van Hollen said. "We think that we should look at all those possibilities."
Still, Levin cautioned that Democrats are not ready to allow "health provisions to pay for non-health provisions" — a warning to GOP leaders that any Medicare savings should be used only to strengthen the program.
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), another member of the conference panel, warned that any lawmakers hoping to expand the committee’s scope beyond the payroll-tax cut, unemployment insurance and Medicare would risk losing all three.
"Those are the three tasks before us," Becerra said. "And anyone wishing to meddle beyond that is risking the clock expiring by February 29th."