By Mike Lillis - 01/24/12 06:53 PM EST
House Republicans care more about election-year politics than the unemployed, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) charged Tuesday.
Hoyer said Republican leaders “wasted” last week on a political debt-ceiling vote that had no chance of becoming law and frittered away the recent GOP issues conference “talking about spin and politics — not substance and policy.”
“You’ve gotta walk the walk, and if we’re going to create jobs, if we’re going to create fiscal stability, if we’re going to create long-term strength for America … it will be because we talked about substance and policy,” Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol.
Democrats have endorsed a job-creation strategy that hinges on new spending for infrastructure, housing, education and safety-net programs — all themes President Obama is expected to touch on in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
Republicans, by contrast, said a better way to stimulate the economy is to get the government out of the way of the private sector. They’ve been pushing legislation to cut taxes, slash federal programs and eliminate regulations they deem job-killers.
Speaking Friday during the GOP’s annual issues conference in Baltimore, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) charged Obama with making the economy worse. He said “oversight” of the Democrats’ policies would be high on the GOP’s agenda this year.
“I’ve asked every member in every committee to look at the president’s policies and to help the American people understand — and help, frankly, other members of Congress understand — the devastating impact of these policies on our economy,” Boehner said.
Earlier in the week, the Speaker helped pass legislation disapproving of Obama’s request to hike the federal debt ceiling — a symbolic vote allowing Republicans to go on the record opposing more deficit spending, even as GOP leaders had effectively blessed a debt-limit hike by supporting last summer’s bipartisan debt deal.
Hoyer hammered GOP leaders for playing budget politics amid the ongoing jobs crisis.
“We don’t have the time to waste on pretense,” Hoyer said. “The good news is that everyone saw it for the charade that it was [and], as a result, it didn’t have the adverse impact it otherwise would have had.”
Hoyer on Tuesday conceded that Congress needs a plan to rein in deficit spending in the “medium and long term.” But the priority now, he added, should be jobs.
“The single most pressing problem confronting us is job creation,” he said.
With congressional approval ratings at historically low levels, Obama on Tuesday is expected to go after Republicans for blocking or stalling almost every major piece of legislation he proposed last year — a theme GOP leaders are already attacking.
“While we don’t yet know all of the specifics, we do know the goal,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday on the floor of the upper chamber. “Based on what the president’s aides have been telling reporters, the goal isn’t to conquer the nation’s problems, it’s to conquer Republicans. The goal isn’t to prevent gridlock, but to guarantee it.”
Hoyer conceded that Obama’s speech would likely sound a few political notes. But that’s simply to be expected, he added, in a high-stakes election year.
“There is nobody in the Congress or in the White House who will not talk unrelated to their political recognition that they have to seek the approval of the electorate in a few short months,” Hoyer said. “That’s what makes our system so great.
“Yes, it is shaped by the political environment,” he added. “But … the best politics will be in expressing the best policy and continuing to reach out to the other side to work together.”