By Walter Alarkon - 11/11/09 11:00 AM EST
Senate Democrats will take up a new job-creation bill in the wake of the 10.2 percent unemployment rate, Majority Leader Harry Reid told his colleagues Tuesday.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told The Hill that Reid (D-Nev.) made the announcement about a new jobs bill at the Senate Democrats’ weekly lunch.
Reid said he was looking at an initiative focused on job creation “and that our caucus will take it up,” Cardin said.
Cardin said Reid offered no additional specifics, such as timing for a new jobs bill.
Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), a member of Senate Democratic leadership, said that the conference is focused on ways to create jobs but that no decision about legislation has been made.
Democrats have had a “number of discussions and everybody is looking at where we can make the biggest difference,” she told The Hill.
Reid’s office said it had nothing to add to senators’ remarks on the push for a jobs bill.
Democrats have been rocked by Friday’s unemployment report showing the jobless rate hitting double digits for the first time since the early 1980s. While unemployment was widely expected to hit 10 percent this fall, it was a surprise that it hit that threshold in October, particularly after reports that the nation’s gross domestic product grew 3.5 percent in the most recent quarter.
The bad news on jobs came days after Democrats lost gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, two states President Barack Obama carried in last fall’s presidential race. Those defeats raised anxieties in a party already nervous about 2010’s midterm elections, when the party that holds the White House typically loses House and Senate seats.
The effect of the struggling economy has begun to show up in polls, to the detriment of incumbents.
Reid himself is one of the GOP’s top targets in the 2010 congressional elections. A Las Vegas Review-Journal poll last month found that Reid had an approval rating of just 32 percent, compared to a 51 percent disapproval rating, and that he trailed Republican candidates in hypothetical match-ups.
The newspaper’s May poll had found Reid to have a higher approval rating, 46 percent, than his disapproval rating, 42 percent. The drop in Reid’s standing has accompanied a rise in the state’s unemployment rate, which has gone from less than 6 percent last year to 13.5 percent in October.
Democrats moved a $787 billion stimulus measure earlier this year with little GOP support, and have been hammered by Republicans who say the effort has failed to stem job losses. The White House and Democratic leaders in Congress have said the stimulus has saved or created hundreds of thousands of jobs and that the unemployment rate would be much higher without the stimulus. The White House has resisted calls from the left that another stimulus was necessary.
A new jobs bill would add yet another piece of major legislation onto the Congress’s plate. Democrats are currently trying to finish work on healthcare reform. Afterward, they plan to turn to legislation curbing climate change and overhauling financial regulations.
Cardin said that the climate change bill could serve as the jobs bill by providing incentives for Americans and businesses to invest in green technologies.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to get better job growth in America,” Cardin said. “Too many people in my state and around the country can’t find jobs.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said that GOP members have also been discussing ways to create more jobs but wouldn’t be able to support Democratic efforts similar to the stimulus, which he deemed a “massive expansion of government” that didn’t lead to much job growth.
Obama’s poll ratings have dropped with the economy. A Washington Post/ABC News poll in October showed that Obama was still personally popular but that his handling of the economy had suffered. Most Americans — 57 percent — approved of the overall job he was doing, but just 50 percent approved of his work on the economy. That’s a 10-point slide from his rating on the economy in March, according to the Post/ABC News poll.
Congressional Democrats and the White House have sought to boost the economy in recent months without resorting to another stimulus package.
Last week, Obama signed into law a package extending unemployment benefits, a tax credit for first-time homebuyers and tax refunds for businesses struggling during the recession. Lawmakers have also mentioned extensions of healthcare benefits for the unemployed and higher levels of food stamps for low-income Americans.
House Democrats have signaled openness to a tax credit for each new hire companies make, but lawmakers have yet to introduce a bill proposing it. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said that passage of a $500 billion, six-year transportation reauthorization bill, funding highway and transit construction projects, could serve as a jobs bill, but the White House and Senate Democrats have only supported extensions of the current transportation bill.