Democrats were unimpressed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he had been told by his staff that the Republicans were unveiling a jobs agenda but said they had “a funny way to start” their focus on the issue, given they have been blocking his efforts to conclude action on the small-business bill, which has been on the floor since March 10.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said the Republicans praise for the fiscal year 2012 spending plan proposed by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) calls into question the Senate GOP’s commitment to job creation as a priority over reducing the size and scope of the federal government. The vice chairwoman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Center indicated that the Republicans’ votes on Ryan’s budget would signal their seriousness on the jobs issue.
“I absolutely think that their budget reduces opportunity for jobs and economic growth. It’s not rhetoric to say we’ve got to out-innovate and out-educate in a global economy. That’s the way we’re going to create jobs,” said Stabenow, who is up for re-election in 2012.
For Senate Republican leaders, Portman’s plan serves as a vehicle to unify the party’s message, similar to how the GOP approached the fight over health care reform. Republicans believe that the consistency and unity of their message during that yearlong legislative battle helped the GOP win at the ballot box, even as the health care reform bill became law.
Sen. Mike Johanns said the problem for Republicans has not necessarily been inadequate focus on jobs, noting that he and most of his colleagues prioritize the subject in their discussions with the press and with their constituents. But he conceded that Portman’s plan, written in conjunction with a working group of other GOP Senators, would be helpful.
“More unity in the message is a good thing, and I see that happening,” the Nebraska Republican said.
Republicans also hope that introducing a concrete plan shows voters that they are committed to addressing the jobs issue while easing the way for Members to discuss the matter on a regular basis. “Having it written down allows us to say, ‘We have a plan,’” said one Senate Republican leadership aide.
“We want to make certain that we’re acting and talking about the issue that the American people think is the most important to them and to our country’s future,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) said. “They’re telling us in our conversations and in our polls that creating private sector jobs is at the top of the list.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.