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Signs Aren’t Promising for Bipartisan Action on Jobs

The White House and Democratic leaders hope to lure at least some GOP support for a new jobs bill by touting their desire for bipartisanship and backing proposals Republicans have supported in the past. But the rhetoric on both sides points instead to a donnybrook next year when Democrats start moving legislation.

During a White House meeting Wednesday with the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional leadership, President Barack Obama pledged to consider Republican ideas on how to spur job growth.

But he also demanded that Republicans stop “frightening— people about the state of the economy. And, according to a source familiar with the session, he suggested Republicans were rooting for the unemployment rate to remain high so that they would benefit in the 2010 midterm elections.

Republicans, for their part, have done little cheerleading for the proposals Obama outlined in a speech Tuesday. After the White House meeting, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) stepped to the mikes to declare how different GOP proposals are from Obama’s.

White House officials are emphasizing that two planks of the president’s proposal — infrastructure spending and tax cuts and other help for small businesses — have enjoyed GOP support.

“The president is willing to work with Democrats and Republicans,— White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said. “And, again, I think it was important that the president started out the meeting by mentioning that two of the ideas that the president had talked about in his speech — two of the three ideas were … ideas that have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support,— he said. “So I think the president believes there is a commonality to these ideas that he’s proposed and that he’s heard from Capitol Hill that they propose that we think we can find agreement on and hopefully get some progress on.—

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was also on message outside the White House following the meeting, forecasting a possible “bipartisan— deal.

But House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) told Roll Call that while Obama’s proposals for small-business tax cuts are nice, they were “no substitute for the kind of across-the-board tax relief— backed by Republicans. “This administration doesn’t get it,— he added.

The strategy of gaining Republicans for a jobs bill could avoid the fallout from the $787 billion stimulus bill passed almost exclusively by Democrats early this year.

That measure has become a GOP battering ram to bash Obama and Democrats for the lack of job creation. Polls show support for the stimulus has been dubious at best, and the White House is so concerned about the prospect of dismal public support for another such bill that it corrects reporters when they call Obama’s newest plan a “stimulus.—

Some Republicans, while at least professing hope that they and Obama can find common ground, are skeptical of the White House overture.

“I think they’re trying to talk out of both sides of their mouths,— said one senior GOP aide. This source said the “overall sentiment— of Members after the White House meeting was that Obama’s posture was, “It was nice to have you down here, good to see you all, hope we can work together on areas where you should basically agree with us on all our things.—

But small-business tax incentives and new money for roads may be hard for some GOP lawmakers to resist.

And the carrot is accompanied by a stick. If Republicans don’t support the legislation, the White House is ready with Plan B: Blame the GOP for failing to take steps to create jobs.

“If the president outlines ideas that the Republicans have previously supported and then Republicans seem unwilling to support the ideas they supported then now, you can leave it up to others to judge why it is they don’t want to participate in a solution that we all agree and we’ve said in the past would put people back to work,— Gibbs said.

Boehner, Pence and Cantor have all called for enacting the type of small-business tax incentives Obama wants, including increased expensing allowances and suspension of capital gains taxes.

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