Salena Zito

When historians look back on this moment in American politics, they may wonder why the White House failed to focus on the consuming issue of the time: the economy -- and, in particular, jobs.

An exasperated U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., said in a recent phone interview, "Frankly, our constituents really just want us to focus on jobs."

Instead, he and five Western Pennsylvania congressmen are caught in the crosshairs of Washington's political blood sport, as both parties clash over debt limits and deficits.

Outside Washington, constituents are clamoring about the economy -- or, as U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, interprets it: "Let us know when you guys are done with the bickering, so we can talk about fixing our economy."

On Friday, the Commerce Department released stunning numbers that showed that the U.S. economy grew less than forecasted. Consumer spending, which is about 70 percent of the economy, climbed 0.1 percent.

What did that mean? Well, not much in terms of growth.

Most analysts estimated that the economy only grew at an annualized rate of 1.7 percent between April and June; it only grew 1.3 percent, which borders between abysmal and anemic.

Estimates by financial powerhouses such as JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs predict 2.5 percent growth for the second quarter, not enough to put a dent in our 9.2 percent jobless rate.

In fact, our economy would need to chug along at a little more than 4.5 percent growth for a whole year to bring down the unemployment rate by 1 percentage point.

Manufacturing, one of the few economic sectors that has seen growth lately, posted a drop in orders for long-lasting goods in May, according to a mid-July report by the Commerce Department. Those orders are expected to grow, however.

Still, Americans have the jitters when it comes to buying; they have no confidence in the "American Dream" right now, and no confidence means no buying.

Their attitude is backed up by a report issued by a liberal research and advocacy group, the National Employment Law Project, showing that more than 70 percent of the jobs added since the recession began have been in low-wage occupations paying less than $14 an hour.

So, creating jobs is the important mission for members of Congress, according to U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler, a member of the 2010 freshman class. He and Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, want to see the White House focus on jobs, too.

"Creating well-paying jobs is even more important," adds Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.