Democratic leaders outlined their plans Sunday for the upcoming Congress, with President Obama needing to fix the economy and score legislative wins to help his likely 2012 re-election effort amid a Republican-controlled House and a disillusioned liberal base.
Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said the president’s top priorities include creating more jobs, cutting the deficit and earmark reform.
Mr. Kaine indicated the president will introduce a series of deficit-reduction proposals, created in part from the work of his bipartisan deficit commission, and will look to such GOP leaders as Rep. Darryl Issa of California to help end the practice of congressional earmarks, in which lawmakers tack multimillion dollar, home-state projects onto legislation.
“Probably the most significant reform that the American people want to see is a reform in Congress,” Mr. Kaine said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And I think the No. 1 priority of the American public … is getting the economy going again.”
He was pointedly mum on the president’s job-creation plan, saying he would let Mr. Obama announce his agenda, expected during the presidential State of the Union address later this month.
Mr. Kaine has vigorously touted Mr. Obama’s accomplishments ahead of the 112th Congress, which opens Wednesday. But on Sunday, he acknowledged the president has failed to create jobs, with unemployment above 9.5 percent for 16 straight months and a Gallup job-approval rating at 47 percent.
“It’s a tough time,” Mr. Kaine said. “And … folks are going to be dissatisfied until they see things moving more dramatically the right way. I think we’ll see it, and the president’s numbers will continue to get better.”
As a sure sign President Obama feels the pressure, he said before Christmas that his focus over the next two years is to create jobs. He said Saturday his New Year’s resolution includes creating more jobs.
“We’re still emerging from a once-in-a-lifetime recession,” said Mr. Obama, who suggested his plan also will focus on long-term strategies for helping small businesses get started and making the U.S. more competitive in the global economy.
He also indicated his willingness to work with Republicans such as Mr. Issa, the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Though Mr. Obama said he “will work with anybody who has an idea,” Mr. Kaine said the president will not play “mother, may I?” with the GOP.
The top idea among many Republicans appears to be undoing Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul, even as Mr. Kaine predicted the law would perhaps “go down in history as one of the great achievements of this president.”
Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and incoming chairman on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday” that his party plans to bring up a repeal vote on health care before the State of the Union address. Meanwhile, Mr. Issa, whose new post as committee chairman gives him subpoena power, said he will focus on government waste.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the chamber’s oversight committee, said on CNN he also will hold the administration to a “very, very high standard,” but urged the Republicans not to stage “witch hunts” or “fishing expeditions.”
Mr. Kaine also said the president’s chances of facing a serious intraparty primary challenge in 2012 are “virtually nil.”
“It’s very unlikely, [but] you’ll always get a fringe candidate,” he said.
Mr. Kaine said the president and fellow Democrats must continue to do the job Americans elected them to do to win next year.
The president was lauded for working with the GOP during Congress’s lame-duck session to pass a massive tax-cut package, but his liberal base criticized him for reversing course to extend Bush-era tax rates.
“We feel very good going into the 2012 cycle,” Mr. Kaine said.
The former Virginia governor also said he expect to continue as party chairman for another two-year term.