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Republicans Pivot Back to a Jobs Agenda

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the GOP will propose a job growth initiative later this week.

House Republicans are trying again to focus their efforts on a job creation agenda, with leaders acknowledging they want to boost the GOP’s political standing with voters.

The decision to pivot from weeks of budget talks to unveiling a jobs platform follows several unsuccessful GOP attempts to cast job growth as part of the party’s larger economic platform.

The majority has struggled to promote a clear vision on how its economic priorities will boost job growth in the private sector. Instead, party leaders have focused most on cutting spending. They instructed Republican committee chairmen to strip away extraneous government regulations that they argue stifle job growth — an effort that is more difficult to translate into a messaging strategy than the catchier Democratic plan dubbed “Make It in America.”

“This will also serve the purpose of trying to further define the choice that the electorate will have in the upcoming November 2012 elections,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters Monday when detailing the new push. “Essentially the choice is going to be more taxes and more government versus more growth and more jobs.”

Cantor said the House Republican Conference would put forth a job growth initiative later this week that includes provisions on tax and regulatory reform. Cantor noted that “we have been talking a lot about the spending reduction side” and said that the party’s latest effort to grow jobs builds on last year’s “Pledge to America.” He said the agenda “is consistent with what we’ve been doing in committees.”

The announcement resembles a similar effort in March, when leaders tried to shore up credibility on job creation after some rank-and-file Members worried they were too focused on health care repeal and deficit reduction at the expense of the top political issue for voters across the country. At that time, Cantor and others inserted the word “jobs” into talking points, floor statements and press conferences, and they acknowledged needing to ramp up on the issue.

On Monday, Cantor returned to that strategy.

“This is a plan for America’s job growers,” Cantor said. “This is a plan to make it easier for entrepreneurs and small businesses and families in America to see a better future in growth. That’s what it’s about.”

The strategy shift came just as Republicans were bracing for a potentially bruising special election loss in upstate New York and as GOP presidential contenders continued to stumble on whether they support Medicare changes in House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget plan that passed the House last month.

There has also been unrest within the Conference as some Members try to distance themselves from their initial support for Ryan’s plan, which has become increasingly unpopular. In one example, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) refused to bring up portions of the Ryan proposal in committee because Senate Democrats would not pass the plan.

Leadership aides said Monday that the new jobs proposal will have the full support of the Conference and builds both on the Republicans’ Pledge to America and Cantor’s own “cut and grow” message, as well as work being done at the committee level.

Republicans also seem to be taking cues from their Democratic counterparts, who veered from the jobs agenda in the lead-up to the 2010 midterm elections and scrambled to put together a series of bills in an effort to refocus on the issue. But Democrats’ own “Make It in America” agenda did not curry any favor with voters in last year’s historic elections, and it remains unclear whether Republicans will find success in their latest venture.

“Republicans in the House have done a great job tackling deficits and debt, but they will have to successfully couple their efforts with a pro-growth platform,” a GOP strategist said. “People inside the Beltway tend to forget that the 2010 election was about jobs and the economy. This agenda is about living up to the promises Republicans made in the runup to the election.”

Just as Republicans criticized Democrats during the 111th Congress for not doing enough to grow jobs, the new Democratic minority this year has blasted the GOP for doing little. Democrats also prodded the majority earlier this month for failing to take on the issue of rising gas prices, another pressing matter for constituents across the country.

“Americans won’t buy GOP attempts to try to turn the page on their ideological agenda and spin their way out of the fact that they voted to end Medicare and give tax breaks to Big Oil while ignoring jobs for more than four months,” said Drew Hammill, spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

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