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Economic Stall Could Hurt White House, Congress

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Last week’s anemic jobs and growth reports struck a White House already facing major headwinds going into the general election, but they could also pressure Congress to get something significant done before Members face voters.

The slight uptick in the May unemployment rate to 8.2 percent, with a mere 69,000 new jobs created, came alongside gross domestic product figures that were revised lower to 1.9 percent growth in the first quarter. The gloomy numbers undercut the White House’s attempts to tout its record — sending the administration and Congressional Democrats even further into blame-somebody-else mode.  

There is at least some hope on the Democratic side that House Republicans will feel pressure to get more done, rather than spend their summer on partisan legislation that has little to no chance of becoming law.

But there was little evidence of that, at least initially. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told CNBC Friday that he doesn’t see a need for more federal stimulus — a sentiment later echoed on that channel by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney — saying that they’ve already tried that and it hasn’t worked. Cantor instead pointed to the lack of certainty on future tax rates and regulations for business owners as the reason for the “pathetic” jobs numbers.

And that’s where the House appears likely to spending much of its time — passing efforts to roll back or block regulations that are destined for campaign ads and a Senate drawer, and an effort to make expiring tax cuts permanent.

Republican aides suggested that the numbers would instead put pressure on the White House to work with Republicans.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) noted that the jobs report was the 27th consecutive month with private-sector job gains but held up a chart Friday showing job losses in the hard-hit construction sector.

“We have an answer to this and that is to pass the transportation bill — the bipartisan transportation bill,” she said. “Republicans will say they sent 30 bills over to the Senate. They sent 30 pieces of message over to the Senate. We don’t need 30 message bills; we need one good bill. One good, bipartisan bill, and that’s the transportation bill — which passed [the Senate] in a bipartisan way awhile ago.”

The White House continues to ramp up pressure on Congress to pass President Barack Obama’s agenda. The problem for the administration is that Republicans seem more than happy to ignore White House proposals for new initiatives — only relenting when it comes to expiring provisions such as the payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits and student loan interest rates.

Many of the victories Obama touted last week at a signing of the bipartisan Export-Import Bank reauthorization bill — free-trade bills, patent reform and the like — were items the business community and Republican leaders wanted anyway.

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