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Jobs and Washington: Who's doing what?

Published: Monday, July 6 2015 10:43 a.m. MDT

(r-l) Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., head to the floor. (Associated Press) (r-l) Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., head to the floor. (Associated Press)

The debate over which party in Washington has been working harder to create jobs is likely to be a central focus in the coming 2012 election. The answer may be: It depends.

The question of jobs and Washington has at its root the issue of party philosophy — what do Republicans believe will help create jobs, and what have they done to promote that belief? Likewise, what do Democrats believe, and how have they promoted their positions?

For President Barack Obama, the answer to the current 9.1 unemployment rate — or the 16.5 percent rate according to the U-6 measure — comes in the form of his $447 billion American Jobs Act. The bill, the White House says, will help create jobs by cutting employer payroll taxes, spurring the hiring of teachers and first responders and boosting infrastructure spending.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nev. arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday Oct. 5, 2011, to discuss President Barack Obama's jobs bill. (Associated Press) Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nev. arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday Oct. 5, 2011, to discuss President Barack Obama's jobs bill. (Associated Press)

In a Thursday news conference, the president challenged the Republican-led House to pass the bill, saying they will answer to the American people if they don’t.

“If Congress does something, then I can’t run against a do-nothing Congress,” Obama said. “If Congress does nothing, then it’s not a matter of me running against them. I think the American people will run them out of town, because they are frustrated, and they know we need to do something big and something bold.”

According to The Washington Post, the president’s words represent one aspect of Obama’s reelection message: That while he has worked to improve the economy, the Republicans are putting aside the country to focus on getting him kicked out of office.

After the speech White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tweeted, “As POTUS said, he welcomes GOP ideas that would grow the economy and put people back to work NOW. Where are they?”

“Here’s a little homework assignment for folks,” Obama said at the news conference Thursday. “Go ask the Republicans what their jobs plan is, if they’re opposed to the American Jobs Act. And have it scored, have it assessed by the same independent economists that assessed our jobs plan.”

Greg Sargent, writing at The Washington Post, said the "homework" reveals a core question: Are Republicans making a legitimate contribution to the debate over what to do with the economy?

“As Obama pointed out,” Sargent writes, “there is no Republican initiative that can meaningfully be called a jobs bill. … To the extent that they do bother to develop bills and move them to the House floor, Republicans aren’t really legislating, because they have no intention of developing laws that can pass through the Senate and earn the president’s signature.”

While the idea of a “do-nothing Congress” seems like a seductive message to utilize during the 2012 election season, Republicans like Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, take exception to the claim.

“Nothing has disappointed me more than what’s happened over the last five weeks, to watch the president of the United States give up on governing, give up on leading, and spend full time campaigning,” Boehner said. “All year, I’ve reached out to the president. Yet the president, some 14 months before the election, throws in the towel … We’re legislating; he’s campaigning.”

The Republican website, jobs.jop.gov, lists six tactics Republicans have used to shape their jobs agenda. These include reducing regulatory burdens that hinder economic growth, streamlining and reforming the tax code, passing three pending free trade agreements, modernizing the patent system, increasing domestic energy production and cutting government spending.

According to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s website, Republicans have pushed forward with their jobs agenda — despite Democrat claims to the contrary — by passing a number of bills that have since become “stuck in the Senate.” These jobs bills include:

The Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act

The Energy Tax Prevention Act

Disapproval of FCC’s Net Neutrality Regulations

The Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act

Consumer Financial Protection & Soundness Improvement Act

Protecting Jobs From Government Interference Act

Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation

Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act

Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work Act

Reversing President Obama’s Offshore Moratorium Act

The Jobs and Energy Permitting Act of 2011

North American-Made Energy Security Act

Budget for Fiscal Year 2012

“Constant threats of tax increases and excessive regulations send the wrong signal to our entrepreneurs, investors and small businesspeople — a signal that we are not open for business in America," Cantor said in a Friday news release. "Meanwhile the president's job plan, which includes more stimulus spending and higher taxes, is opposed by the bipartisan majority of Congress. There are some portions of President Obama's plan where we can find commonality, and the House will pass those proposals to boost economic growth and help people get back to work."

According to a GOP graphic, at the beginning of September the House had voted on more than 12 jobs bills and 6 energy production bills. The House also passed a budget. In contrast, according to the graphic, the Senate had voted on one jobs bill and zero energy production bills. It has been nearly 900 days since the Senate passed a budget.

In an Associated Press fact check of Obama’s Thursday speech, reporter Jim Kuhnhenn laid out Republican objections with Obama’s plan, citing new spending on public works programs, higher taxes and overregulation. Republicans have, however, praised Obama’s plan for including the extension of certain business tax breaks, waiving a payment withholding provision for federal contractors, incentives for hiring veterans and job training measures in connection with unemployment insurance.

Although Obama says the Republican–led House is currently standing in the way of his jobs bill, the bill has also encountered problems in the Democrat-led Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pushed for a vote on the bill Tuesday, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., blocked the move. The bill is currently being rewritten to gain the support of enough Democrats to pass. The new bill will therefore include a 5.6 percent surtax on millionaires. Additionally, Thursday evening Reid used the “nuclear option” to change Senate rules in response to McConnell’s pushing for a vote, The Hill reports.

For Democrats, the answer to the unemployment crisis can be found in the president’s jobs bill and the “jolt” he says it will bring. For Republicans, the answer seems to lie in passing smaller legislation aimed at specific issues. Either way, the 2012 election sits at the heart of the debate.

According to Thomas.gov, Obama’s bill — which would require some politically dangerous votes — was introduced in the House (H.R. 12) and Senate (S.1549) at the request of the president. Neither the House nor the Senate version has attracted any cosponsors.

“Obama can complain about Eric Cantor in his insider emails and on the campaign trail, but even House Democrat Whip Steny Hoyer hasn’t bothered to co-sponsor the bill Cantor is supposedly blocking,” Russell Halley writes at The Business Insider. “In fact, no Democrat has co-sponsored the bill in either house, and it’s the Democrats in the Senate that [have] done all they can to block a vote on the bill their party’s president insists must be passed right away, and yet the Obama campaign is blasting the Republicans."

"With this," Halley says, "the Obama re-election strategy is laid bare: they’re counting on voters being so stupid and uninformed that they will buy any old line the White House throws at them. The trajectory of the economy and the re-election effort suggest that the strategy isn’t working.”

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