- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Democratic leaders want a new bipartisan congressional panel tasked with finding ways to slash the deficit to also include job-growth provisions in their plan.

The 12-member supercommittee born of this summer’s bitter debt- and deficit-reduction battle is charged with coming up with a plan to trim up to $1.5 trillion from the federal deficit during the next decade.

But Capitol Hill Democrats are pushing for a jobs package to accompany the plan, saying that deficit cuts and reducing the nation’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate go hand-in-hand.

“The fastest and most effective way to reduce the deficit is to put America back to work,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat and a deficit committee member, during a news conference held by House Democratic leaders at the Capitol on Tuesday.

Democrats say improving the nation’s aging infrastructure network — such as highways, bridges, and water- and sewage-treatment systems — would go a long way toward “mutually reinforcing” the workforce and the economy.

“I don’t think there’s a person who sits on this select [deficit-reduction] committee who doesn’t believe that job growth, economic growth, is key to us getting out of this fiscal mess,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra, California Democrat, another member of the deficit panel.

Across the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said job creation should be Congress’ “No. 1 priority.”

“Rather than working with Democrats to pass job-creating legislation, [Republicans this year] insisted on reckless cuts that hurt our economic recovery and prevented us from getting Americans working again,” the Nevada Democrat said.

But Republicans say that reducing government regulations and cutting taxes — not creating new government programs — is the best way to spur job growth.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Mr. Obama of taking the position that, if Congress doesn’t rubber-stamp his economic agenda, it is putting politics above country.

“With all due respect, Mr. President, there’s a much simpler reason for opposing your economic proposals that has nothing to do with politics: They don’t work,’” the Kentucky Republican said.

House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia on Tuesday urged President Obama to meet with congressional leaders ahead of his Thursday address to Congress on job creation. Such a meeting, the Republicans said, would allow both parties to move beyond the rhetoric of bipartisanship and actually work together on measures that would spur job growth.

“While it is important that we continue to debate and discuss our different approaches to job creation, it is also critical that our differences not preclude us from taking action in areas where there is common agreement,” the House GOP leaders said in a joint letter to Mr. Obama. “We should not approach this as an all-or-nothing situation.”

The deficit panel, which includes six members from both the House and Senate equally divided by party, will hold its first organizational meeting on Thursday, and its first hearing next Tuesday. Both are open to the public.

The panel by early December must come up with a 10-year plan to cut the deficit by $1.5 trillion, which the House and Senate must vote on before Christmas. Failure to pass a package would trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that would affect a wide range of domestic programs, as well as the Pentagon.

Kara Rowland contributed to this report.

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