By Mike Lillis - 07/26/11 12:23 AM EDT
House Democrats on Monday hammered the majority Republicans over the nation's soaring unemployment numbers.
Pulling a page from the GOP's "Where are the jobs?" campaign, the Democrats are asking Republican leaders, "Where are the jobs bills?"
Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) was even more direct.
"Mr. Speaker, where is the jobs bill?" Crowley asked. "Your caucus ran on creating jobs and yet [there's] not [been] one single bill in 200 days of Congress to create a single job."
With all eyes in Washington on the current debate over how to raise the debt limit and reduce deficit spending, the issue of jobs has been largely overshadowed despite a national unemployment rate hovering above 9 percent.
The 17 Democrats appearing Monday to urge new jobs legislation said the focus on deficits is misguided.
"The biggest deficit this country faces is a jobs deficit," said Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus. "The sooner we put Americans back to work — and thereby paying taxes — the quicker we get this economy going."
The comments highlight the stark ideological differences between the two parties over the government's role in rebuilding the economy. Democrats are pushing their "Make it in America" agenda, a package of proposals designed to create jobs by bolstering infrastructure spending, promoting manufacturing and hiking taxes on corporations that outsource jobs.
"We are a nation that consumes today," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), co-chairwoman of the Democratic Steering Committee, promoting her bill to create a national infrastructure bank. "We don't build, we consume from other countries."
Republican leaders, meanwhile, have insisted that the federal government has little role to play in the economic recovery aside from getting out of the way of private enterprise. They're urging Congress to cut taxes, slash federal spending and scale back regulations they say are strangling private-sector job creators.
As part of that effort, the GOP's Interior spending bill — on the floor this week — would slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by as much as 18 percent.
"The EPA's unrestrained effort to regulate greenhouse gases and the pursuit of an overly aggressive regulatory agenda are signs of an agency that has lost its bearing," Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Interior and Environment, said Monday on the chamber floor.
"Wherever I go, the biggest complaint I hear about the federal government is about how the EPA is creating economic uncertainty and killing jobs," Simpson said.
Hoyer on Monday charged Republicans with fostering economic uncertainty by walking away from the debt-limit talks with both President Obama and Vice President Biden.
"What we have seen over the last month of walk-outs by Republican leaders on responsible compromise has undermined our ability to compete with the rest of the world," Hoyer said.
There's also partisan disagreement about what represents a valid job. In February, amid debate over a GOP proposal to cut 2011 spending by $61 billion, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) raised eyebrows when he indicated that some government jobs are expendable.
"Over the last two years since President Obama has taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs," Boehner said. "And if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it."
Democrats, on the other hand, have warned that the elimination of government jobs also reduces consumer spending, thereby reverberating through the larger economy.
"They [Republicans] need to look carefully as they slash these budgets — what it means," Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Monday. "A $100 billion cut from Medicaid translates into 800,000 to 1 million jobs."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has scheduled a press conference Tuesday morning to continue the Democrats' push for Congress to take up jobs legislation.