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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.

Obama took Congress to task on Friday for failing to adopt the bulk of his $447 billion jobs plan last year or his latest economic “to-do” list, and he pointed to challenges from Europe, high gas prices and the deep hole he inherited three and a half years ago.

The president revived his jobs act proposals to provide money to states to rehire teachers and firefighters and build roads and bridges, and continued to push for the five to-do list items, including a business tax cut and a refinancing plan for homeowners who owe more than their houses are worth.

“There’s no excuse for it,” Obama said of Congress’ failure to pass his proposals. “Not when there’s so many people out there still looking for work. Not when there’s still folks out there struggling to pay their bills. ... My message to Congress is now is not time to play politics. Now is not the time to sit on your hands.”

Romney and other Republicans jumped on the report with a torrent of tweets, press releases and TV appearances, using the latest numbers as confirmation that Obama’s term in office has been a failure.

“Slowing GDP growth, plunging consumer confidence, an increase in unemployment claims and now another dismal jobs report all stand as a harsh indictment of the president’s handling of the economy,” Romney said.

“President Obama’s failed policies have made high unemployment and a weak economy the sad new normal for families and small businesses,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “While Senate Democrats are blocking these and other important jobs bills, and President Obama is occupied campaigning, the House will continue to focus on liberating job creators and building a stronger economy for all Americans.”

Continued high employment among young people and a surge in Hispanic unemployment to 11 percent from 10.3 percent also gave the Romney camp an opening to appeal to voters who so far have strongly backed the president in polls.

“With Governor Romney in the White House, we will see a leader that has the business experience to put Hispanics back to work,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Alexandra Franceschi said.

Democrats said it’s time Republicans stop “rooting for failure” and work to pass a major jobs bill.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) accused House Republicans of putting together a spin-happy summer agenda.

“One of the problems is we’ve had this gridlock in the Congress where the principal objective has been to undermine the ability of President Obama to move this country forward,” he said on CNBC.

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