Democrats Throw a Hail Mary

Posted July 20, 2010 at 6:35pm

House Democratic leaders are launching an eleventh-hour bid to get on offense on jobs and the economy before they face voters in the November midterms.

A retooled jobs initiative, which Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) on Tuesday dubbed the “Make It in America” agenda, will be front and center for Democrats hoping to have something positive to take home during the August break.

With the unemployment rate hovering near 10 percent and the bulk of the House Democratic agenda stalled in the Senate, rank-and-file Members have been clamoring for leadership to refocus their attention on jobs. Lawmakers want to be able to demonstrate that they are working to aid the manufacturing sector and keep American jobs from being shipped overseas.

Democratic leaders appear to be getting the message: They plan to formally roll out their latest endeavor, which Hoyer said would consist of 18 to 20 bills, before week’s end. They hope to move at least one bill on the floor each week until lawmakers go home to campaign in October. Democrats aren’t new to election-year agendas: In July 2006, the then-minority party rolled out its “Six for ’06” initiative — a blueprint of the six areas they would focus on if voted back into the majority. Democrats won the House and Senate that year.

First on their list this time is a measure to lower the costs manufacturers face when trying to acquire component parts. After that, Democrats will take up measures designed to boost enforcement of existing trade laws, to provide incentives for domestic manufacturing, and to promote high-tech and alternative energy products.

“We have a lot of Members who have been interested in this issue for a while now, and they have been introducing bills over the last couple of months pertaining to manufacturing,” said a Democratic leadership aide, adding that leaders decided to package the measures together under the “Make It in America” banner at their rank-and-file Members’ urging.

House Democrats have been frustrated for months that jobs bills they’ve passed have stalled in the Senate. And while they are likely to send an extension of jobless benefits to President Barack Obama as soon as Wednesday, the aid expired seven weeks ago because of a GOP-led Senate filibuster. And there appears to be insufficient Senate support to move House-passed provisions to stem teacher layoffs and close tax loopholes that House Democrats say make it easier to ship jobs overseas.

Although Democratic aides stressed that the manufacturing-focused “Make It in America” agenda has been in the works for weeks, the rollout appears to be a last-ditch effort to give Democrats fresh campaign fodder.

“Certainly this is something we would encourage everyone to message on. … This is something that they could take home just having voted on,” the Democratic leadership aide said, noting that even if the Senate never considers the bills, House Democrats can take it home to tell voters: ‘This is what I stand for. This is what I supported. This is what we are fighting for.'”

Rep. John Yarmuth, whose district is home to General Electric and Ford plants, said he thinks a manufacturing-focused agenda “speaks to people.”

“What they’re looking for is a sense that one party or the other — or one candidate or the other — has a direction that makes sense. … That’s where this agenda can be effective,” the Kentucky Democrat said.

House Democrats ramped up efforts to prevent outsourcing following Democratic Rep. Mark Critz’s special election victory in May in a western Pennsylvania district that was ripe for a Republican pickup. In June, leaders distributed a “pocket card” to the Caucus, laying out the party’s message on manufacturing.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and leaders have asked rank-and-file Members for feedback on their plans, another leadership aide said, stressing that the initiative was still being finalized.

Republicans struck back hard against news of the Democrats’ new jobs platform, which they characterized as tired and ineffective.

“Can I be quoted yawning?” asked Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.). “No matter how many times Speaker Pelosi tries to slap a shiny new label on top of their job-killing agenda, the rest of the country is left facing the ramifications of their failed policies.”

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), accused Democrats of trying to divert attention away from their flawed agenda.

“These measures won’t erase the damage done by Washington Democrats’ job-killing agenda: the endless deficit spending, ObamaCare, the national energy tax — or their plan for the largest tax hike in history,” Steel said.

Ways and Means Republicans on Tuesday charged that Democrats were responsible for the loss of more than 700,000 manufacturing jobs and released a table indicating that all but three states had lost jobs since Democrats’ economic stimulus measure was enacted in 2009.

But the debate isn’t just about jobs. Democrats are also trying to respond to growing public concern about deficit spending before they appear on the ballot Nov. 2.

A bloc of four Democratic Members announcing a deficit-cutting working group Tuesday unveiled a $72 billion deficit-cutting proposal on defense spending and on subsidies for oil companies and agriculture. “We have been frustrated, quite frankly, with both parties,” said Rep. Gary Peters (Mich.), who formed the group along with Reps. John Adler (N.J.), Jim Himes (Conn.) and Peter Welch (Vt.). “We must take action now to reduce spending.”

“We have certainly heard an awful lot of rhetoric from the Republican Party concerning deficit reduction. We believe it’s time now to put actual programs on the table, actual spending cuts on the table,” Peters said.