Where Are the Jobs? House & Senate Moving In Opposite Directions

As the Senate enjoys a week-long recess, the House of Representatives returns to legislative business and will vote on two bills this week that Republicans say provide a better environment for job creation, including one to free up domestic copper resources.

It’s been a phrase echoed by Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle all year long: “Where are the jobs?”

Which party is doing more to create jobs?  With the unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent all year, it’s increasingly difficult to definitively credit anyone in the divided Congress with doing much positive for job creation.

Few bills have passed through both chambers of Congress and reached the president’s desk for his signature. Last Friday, President Obama signed the three free trade agreements recently approved by Congress for Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Democrats and Republicans alike have praised the pacts for creating tens of thousands of jobs.

“We have said over and over again that we should not let our differences get in the way of delivering results,” Cantor, R-Va., said in a statement Friday after the president signed the FTAs into law.

Score one for bipartisanship, right? Maybe not.

Democrats still point to 294 days of the Republican majority without a jobs bill on the floor of the House of Representatives. A senior House Democrat leadership aide said it was “hard for these Republicans to take credit for the trade bills when Obama sent them to the Congress.” In other words, even though the FTAs will undoubtedly create thousands of jobs, it’s not a bill that Republicans were able to successfully craft on their own and push through the legislative sausage maker, so the three bills don’t qualify in the minds of Democrats.

Beyond the FTAs, however, Republicans, count 15 House-passed measures that have stalled in the Democrat-controlled Senate that they say would repair the economic environment and spur job creation.

Republicans, meanwhile, have a similar countdown clock that tracks the number of days since Senate Democrats last passed a budget. (It’s 909 days, if anyone is curious).

After the president unveiled the American Jobs Act in early September, House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor maintained that they would work to enact elements within the proposal exhibiting bipartisan agreement, but they were adamant they would not schedule a vote on the entire bill.

The Senate moved ahead with the full package anyway, but once a procedural motion on the bill failed to garner the votes required to move forward, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the Senate would begin to vote on individual elements of the plan.

Only now there’s an apparent disconnect over what exactly may be deemed common ground on Capitol Hill.

Last week, while members of the House were back in their districts on recess, the Senate began pulling apart the president’s bill by rejecting a $35 billion bill to provide aid to teachers and first responders. That bill is nowhere to be found on the House GOP’s memo that identifies “areas of potential common agreement” and many Republicans and a few moderate Democrats explained their opposition to the bill by suggesting the aid is the responsibility of state and local governments.

President Obama blasted the Senate GOP for its united opposition to the measure, but he pledged to move forward on the American Jobs Act piece by piece, to “give Republicans another chance to put country before party and help us put the American people back to work.”

So with the House back in session, lawmakers will try to pass a bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and repeal the imposition of 3 percent withholding on certain payments made to vendors by government entities, like federal government contractors. Beginning in 2013, federal, state, and local governments would be required to withhold three percent of all government payments made to contractors in excess of $100 million.

But after rejecting the teachers and first responders aid, the Senate then voted late last week on the three percent withholding requirement. Despite having numerous Democratic co-sponsors, the measure was also voted down, 57-43, with 10 Democrats crossing the aisle to side with a unanimous Republican conference.

Republicans cite common ground in this legislation by pointing out that a temporary measure to suspend the requirement came straight from the president’s first stimulus package, the American Recovery Act, in 2009.

A day after the Senate rejected the measure, Cantor announced he was moving forward on the House’s version of the bill anyways, which he says would “remove unnecessary costs on businesses already facing uncertainty.”

“This is an idea that the President supported when he spoke before Congress last month,” Cantor, R-Va., said. “House Republicans are serious about making sure America is a place for opportunity, and that is why we are focused on ideas supported by the President and Democrats in Congress that will create jobs and return economic growth.”

Republicans say their version of the bill “will use a pay-for proposed in the President’s own deficit reduction plan” by amending the modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) for health insurance assistance programs to include the total amount of Social Security benefits in the calculation of MAGI, rather than just the taxable portion, in order to better target those eligible for need.

“Assuming they are sincere about doing something on jobs, there is no reason whatsoever for the White House to oppose it,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker Boehner. “There is common ground to be found between us, but getting more done will require a willing partner in the White House.”

A senior House Democratic leadership aide says that Democrats take issue with the Republicans’ pay-for because rather than strengthening other health programs, the pay-for takes money out of health care in order to pay for something non-health care.

“Many folks are fine with making changes to entitlements around the edges if they don’t hurt those that benefit and strengthen the system,” the aide said. “But this is robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Next week, Reid is expected to move on to a $70 billion bill to rebuild roads, bridges and infrastructure once the Senate returns from its week off.

A GOP memo outlining areas of potential agreement with Democrats stated that “while spending to repair and improve infrastructure can play an important part in both short- and long-term economic growth, adding more money to the same broken system is more likely to produce waste and inefficiency than meaningful results.”

It’s a good question: Where are the jobs? But the political blame game continues to drag on and the antidote to the country’s economic woes remains as elusive as ever.