President Obama asked Congress on Thursday to swiftly pursue a new round of jobs legislation, arguing that his steps to rescue the economy are working, but it doesn’t feel that way to many struggling Americans.
Mr. Obama is trying to thread a difficult needle ahead of this fall’s midterm congressional elections as he points to recent job creation, even as the unemployment rate is expected to rise.
“Last month, we had the strongest job growth that we had seen in years,” he said of April’s gain of 290,000 jobs. “Next month is going to be stronger than this month. And next year is going to be better than this year.”
Still, Mr. Obama acknowledged the pain being experienced by those out of work, noting that it makes little difference if an economist says the recession is over when “you can’t pay your bills or your mortgage.” Focusing his remarks on small business, he urged Congress to act on a new proposal he sent up last week that would create a state small-business-credit initiative to expand lending amid budget shortfalls.
Starting with his State of the Union address in January, Mr. Obama began this year saying he’d be focusing on jobs, but a massive health care overhaul and international priorities, such as Afghanistan and nuclear arms reduction, have consumed most of his time. Now, he and his allies on Capitol Hill are pushing additional measures aimed at creating jobs as Congress prepares to face an angry electorate this fall.
Despite four months of job growth, national unemployment still hovers just below 10 percent. Some economists say it will take five years for the economy to recover the more than 8 million jobs lost in the recession, according to an Associated Press survey.
That would make it the longest recovery since World War II, and could mean that more workers could remain unemployed for years - even as the economy bounces back. Of the nation’s labor force, 4.3 percent have been unemployed for six months or longer, the highest rate since 1948, says the AP.
Republicans have seized on the unemployment rate to criticize Democratic policies, with House Minority Leader John A. Boehner saying their lack of a budget exacerbates the problem.
“For families and small businesses, Congress’ failure to do a budget means missing an opportunity to rein in wasteful Washington spending and provide the fiscal discipline economists say is needed to create jobs and grow the economy,” the Ohio Republican said. “At a time when one out of every 10 Americans in the work force is unemployed and the national unemployment rate stands at levels far higher than those promised by President Obama, the American people deserve better.”
The fight over jobs roiled the House on Thursday, where Democrats had to withdraw a bill to boost science and technology spending after Republicans won a vote to limit the increases and to eliminate the jobs of government workers who had been viewing pornography on their computers.
Democratic leaders had said the technology spending would produce jobs, but Republicans said the new spending should wait until the deficit is fixed. The GOP coupled the delay with the anti-pornography provision, and drew the support of more than 100 Democrats - forcing Democratic leaders to pull the bill from the floor and plan to regroup next week.
“Republicans once again proved that they only care about cynical ploys to take back power in November for the special interests - not about jobs and a strong economy for the middle class,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.
But Mr. Boehner said the $86 billion bill overspent, and Republicans’ amendment slashed more than $47.5 billion in new spending. It passed on a 292-126 vote.
“The American people are scared as hell of Washington Democrats’ out-of-control spending spree,” said Mr. Boehner, calling the vote “a small victory for taxpayers.”
On Thursday, Mr. Obama touted a recent bill he signed into law that gives firms tax credits for hiring unemployed workers. He also reiterated his push for the creation of a $30 billion fund to help small-business owners secure credit, arguing that the financial crisis has forced many states to cut back on their lending programs.
A March survey by Duke University and CFO magazine found that more than one-third of executives at 600 large firms don’t expect to restore their payrolls to pre-recession levels for at least three years.