Democrats seized on Friday's report that the nation's unemployment rate
has reached a 26-year high of 10.2 percent to call for further tax and
spending measures to bolster the economy.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) said the unemployment news was confirmation that February's $787 billion fiscal stimulus was not big enough.
“The bottom line is that additional action is required," Obey said. "An effective short term boost would mean a stronger economy, less unemployment and ultimately lower deficits.”
Liberal Democrats, including Obey, have said for months additional stimulus efforts are needed.
President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaWe must eliminate nuclear weapons, but a 'No First Use' Policy is not the answer Building back a better vice presidency Jill Biden unveils traditional White House holiday décor MORE signed a bill into law on Friday that extends unemployment benefits and a homebuyer tax credit, while also giving a tax break to businesses. The tax break aims to give companies a $33 billion benefit in 2010.
The administration has taken pains to emphasize that the Friday bill does not amount to a second stimulus package. Republicans responded to the economic news by criticizing the Obama administration for pursuing policies in 2009 that they believe have cost jobs.
The administration argues that the stimulus package has directly saved or created 650,000 jobs. Defining the difference between a job saved or created has been a persistent difficulty for the administration. Yet private forecasters have reported that the stimulus package has had a positive benefit on between 800,000 and 1.5 million jobs.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) on Friday called on lawmakers to support a "comprehensive jobs program" focused on infrastructure investments. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) had called for much more money to support infrastructure and highways programs in the original stimulus package.
Oberstar has pushed for a new surface transportation bill that would invest hundreds of billions of dollars into the nation's transportation infrastructure. Lobbyists for general contractors and other large infrastructure interest have pressed lawmakers to pass a new highway bill or to add billions of dollars to a short-term extension of existing policy.
"Now, as our economy has shed jobs, the world has moved ahead and our infrastructure is falling woefully behind," Larson said in response to the unemployment numbers. "We desperately need a transportation plan that provides a vision for the future of American infrastructure and puts the American people back to work realizing that vision."
Congressional Democrats and Obama administration officials have also discussed ways to provide additional relief to state and local budgets. Christina Romer, chairwoman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, recently said that aid to states has been an effective way to boost the economy.
Larson also said that to pay for additional investments in the economy, lawmakers should levy a tax on financial transactions involving stocks and financial derivatives. Larson said that lawmakers should pay for a new infrastructure program with the funds repaid by firms that participated in the $700 billion financial bailout program.
"The banks and executives who were rescued from the financial crisis should now be on the hook to help Main Street get back on its feet," Larson said.