Democrats again look to economist forum as unemployment figures rise

As joblessness continues to vex Democratic leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is going back to the economists.

Pelosi has held forums with economists several times since becoming speaker when economic unease began to rise. And twice, they have led to a stimulus package.

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Now, with unemployment brushing up against 10 percent and polls showing the economy trumping other issues, Pelosi is getting ready to bring together economists once again. This time, though, Democratic leaders aren't talking about another big package like the $787 billion bill that has heightened fears about federal government overspending. Another large bill would also add to criticism that the first stimulus didn't work.

Instead, she is talking about an "array" of separate provisions, from renewing a homebuyer's tax credit to extending COBRA health benefits.

"We will be hearing from some economists, from right to left on this spectrum, in the days ahead," Pelosi said.

Most of her previous economic forums have included mainline Democratic economists, such as Lawrence Summers, now one of President Barack Obama's top economic advisers. Including more conservative economists could indicate that Pelosi is open to more Republican ideas or looking for cover from concerns about spending levels.

And in her remarks this week, Pelosi advocated at least one idea that is also on the Republican's list – expanding the ability of businesses to use losses from recent years to offset past profits and claim tax refunds.

Republicans are attacking the Democrats' February stimulus for failing to create jobs even as they ask the White House to consider their list of ideas, such as tax deductions for small businesses.

The House has already passed an extension of unemployment benefits for those out of work more than nine months; the Senate is expected to vote on a similar bill next week. And Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) were called to the White House to discuss ways to attack the unemployment issue.

They are talking about revisiting a transportation bill that had been on the back burner as a means to expand job creation, and tax credits for hiring new employees. Aides say they are also considering boosting food stamps.

But Pelosi has declined to talk about when any new initiatives might be brought forward.

"We want to hear from the economists to see, again, what works best and what the timeline would be," she said.