Analysis: Jobs debate in the hands of voters, not Congress

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 05, 2011 5:14 PM
Analysis: Jobs debate in the hands of voters, not Congress

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It increasingly appears that the debate over job creation in the United States will be resolved by voters, not lawmakers.

With Democrats and Republicans lining up behind contrasting visions to boost the economy and spur hiring, Washington is essentially in a holding pattern until the November 2012 congressional and presidential elections.

President Barack Obama's jobs package may be going nowhere on Capitol Hill, but it will likely travel well on the campaign trail. Obama has already said that Republicans who control the House of Representatives would be to blame for a stalled economic recovery unless they accept large parts of the plan.

Republicans are counter-attacking -- comparing the bill to Obama's 2009 $800 billion stimulus package as they paint him as a tax-and-spend liberal.

America's 14 million unemployed, meanwhile, aren't likely to get help any time soon. The jobless rate has been above 9 percent since mid-2009, and more than 40 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for more than six months.

"I'm losing hope," said Cherine Akbari, who was laid off from her teaching job in Oakland Park, Florida, earlier this year. "I figured hey, they're always going to need teachers. Well, I was wrong."

The job-creation debate has already taken on the high-octane trappings of a presidential campaign.

Obama has held rallies in the home districts of top congressional Republicans, calling them out by name and accusing them of "playing politics" if they do not pass his entire $447 billion job-creation package.

The strategy seems to be bearing fruit. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Wednesday found that Obama now enjoys a 15-point advantage over Republicans on the subject of job creation, and Republicans are getting more of the blame among those who are dissatisfied with the way the political system is working.


But Obama's hardball tactics won't sway Republicans as long as his public approval ratings remain around 43 percent.

"If the president wants to keep jetting around on Air Force One to make purely political speeches calling for tax hikes in Republican districts, that's his decision, but it doesn't make his plan any more viable as a whole," said a Republican leadership aide.

In another populist move, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid proposed on Wednesday hitting millionaires with a 5 percent tax surcharge to pay for the jobs plan.

But even if the bill passes the Democratic-controlled Senate -- a questionable prospect -- it won't survive the Republican-controlled House in anything like its current form.

While the failure of the bill would allow Obama to paint his political opponents as obstructionists, House Republicans can credibly claim that their own job-creation efforts have been stymied as well.

The House has passed 11 bills that ease regulations on business and make it easier to drill for oil and gas domestically. None have come up for a vote in the Senate.

The Republican approach resonates in the business community, which views signature Obama accomplishments like the healthcare overhaul as job-killers. "With everything he's done, I don't see him creating any jobs," said Stephen Walroth-Sadurni, a Miami business attorney.

Republicans and Democrats have a strong incentive to pass some components of Obama's jobs bill, which would extend a payroll tax and enhanced unemployment benefits that are due to expire at the end of the year.

Failure to extend those provisions could actually cause the economy to shrink in the first three months of 2012, according to Greg Valliere, an analyst at Potomac Research Group.

But Valliere is skeptical that Republicans and Democrats can agree on how to help America's army of unemployed.

"All of these issues have become so theological. It's hard to see them come together," he said.

That would extend the dismal track record established by Congress earlier this year, when repeated budget showdowns spooked investors, unnerved consumers and prompted a first-ever downgrade of the United States' top-notch credit rating.

(Additional reporting by Lily Kuo and Jason Lange in Washington, Andrew Stern in Chicago, Jane Sutton in Miami and Verna Gates in Birmingham, Alabama; editing by Todd Eastham)