Debt fight over, Democrats vow focus on jobs

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) speaks with the media while attending a news conference with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood regarding national high-speed rail service on May 9, 2011 at Penn Station in New York City. Secretary LaHood announced that the U.S. government has awarded $795 million to Getty

Now that the contentious debate over raising the debt limit has finally come to an end, Democrats are vowing to pivot to a "single-minded focus on jobs," in the words of Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.

"While Washington has been consumed with averting a default, our nation's unemployment problem has been worsening. It's time for jobs to be moved back to the front burner," said Schumer, the Senate's number three Democrat.

Schumer, speaking immediately after the Senate passed the debt limit bill, vowed to "reset the debate," telling reporters that "the jobs issue won't have to play second fiddle to the deficit issue anymore."

"The public is glad to see we've moved to rein in our deficits, but now they will put the political premium on efforts to create jobs," he said. "As Democrats, that's our strong suit, our high ground."

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, also speaking Thursday, said: "Enough talk about the debt. We have to talk about jobs." To underline the point, she added: "Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. You cannot say it enough."

Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly point to jobs and the still-struggling economy as their top concern. The unemployment rate now stands at 9.2 percent, and a new report will be released on Friday.

Republicans are seizing on that discouraging figure to criticize President Obama and argue against "job-killing tax increases," in the words of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, also speaking after Tuesday's vote.

McConnell complained of the "regulatory burden that we're experiencing throughout the American economy" and said Congress needs "quit doing what we've been doing."

"Quit borrowing. Quit spending. Quit trying to raise taxes," he said. "Quit overregulating and let the private sector flourish so we have a chance again to have a growing economy which of course will produce more revenue for the government. So that ought to be our single focus, not only at home during the recess, but when we come back here."

"We don't blame the president for the problems he's inherited, but we do hold him responsible for making the economy worse," added Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

House Democrats, meanwhile, are putting the blame squarely on the Republicans who run the House.

"Eight months on the job, no jobs bill for the American people. That is the negligent record of the Republican majority," said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

In his remarks hailing passage of the debt limit bill - which did not include any stimulative measures - Mr. Obama called on lawmakers to "do everything in our power to grow this economy and put Americans back to work." He called on Congress to extend middle class tax cuts and unemployment benefits, pass trade deals and plow money into infrastructure when it returns from its August recess.

Speaking at the Capitol on Monday, Vice President Joe Biden said that if Democrats had their way, Congress would have been focused on job creation, not the debt limit. He called for investment in education, infrastructure and innovation.

Biden said the one "overwhelming redeeming feature" of the debt limit deal was that it extended the nation's borrowing authority until 2013, keeping the issue off the table through the end of next year. He said Democrats will be talking about nothing but jobs in the wake of Mr. Obama signing the debt deal.

Speaking after the Senate vote Monday, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray called on lawmakers to "get back to our priority number one: getting our economy back on track and people back to work."

Asked what specifically Senate Democrats would do on job creation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats will be "working on it" during the August recess. He pointed to efforts to pass a patent bill and completion of a bill to reauthorize the federal highway program, which lapses Sept. 30.

"So there are many things we can do," he said. "And we also, of course, are concerned about the new energy jobs that are out there, and we have a lot of other things that we -- we don't have them finalized yet, but we will."

Among the measures being worked on in the Senate are a bill to set up an infrastructure bank that would combine federal and private funds, a bill that would provide job training for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and plug-in electric vehicles and clean energy bills.

Realistically, however, it will be difficult for Democrats to get spending measures through the GOP-led Congress, which means that the most likely economic measures to pass in the next year will be tax cuts. They could include an extension and possible expansion of the payroll tax break that expires at the end of this year and making the research and development tax credit permanent.

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