It’s a quandary for House Republicans: How do you talk about the best job growth in four years when your mantra has been, “Where are the jobs?”
Riding high and hopeful that they can retake the House in the fall, GOP leaders so far are largely sticking to last year’s playbook despite last week’s jobs report showing 290,000 jobs were added in April and 573,000 so far this year.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) even used the “Where are the jobs?” line in a seeming non sequitur last week reacting to the jobs report. And Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) said the report “delivers even more bad news,” noting the unemployment rate ticked up to 9.9 percent — even though analysts attributed the increase to a surge in long-unemployed workers resuming their hunts for jobs.
But what if the jobs picture continues to brighten, with millions of additional jobs added between now and November? Republicans will credit the resiliency of the American economy instead of Democratic policies.
“While positive signs are good news, and we expect our economy will recover, it will be because of the hard work and entrepreneurship of the American people — and despite Washington Democrats’ job-killing agenda of more spending, higher taxes and more regulation,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.
Republican strategists said Members should acknowledge the economic gains but put them in context.
“Responding to economic numbers should be done with a balanced approach to keep credibility with the media and the public,” said Ron Bonjean, CEO of the Bonjean Co. “Good news can always be briefly acknowledged and then placed in context with struggling long-term job market numbers and a sluggish economy.”
That was the tack taken last week by Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who unlike Pence called the job growth “good news” but proceeded to rip Democratic policies. Boehner, likewise, called the job growth “welcome,” but he said Democrats had failed to keep a promise that their $787 billion stimulus package would keep unemployment under 8 percent.
“The bottom line is we remain mired in the highest unemployment in a generation,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), one of the GOP’s fiercest critics of the stimulus package and President Barack Obama. “Because of the policies of this administration and the Democratic Congress, we are having a tepid, almost non-recovery.”
Like Steel, Hensarling said that even if the job picture brightens significantly in coming months, it would be in spite of Democratic policies, not because of them. Small-business men across the country are delaying hiring because they are worried about what’s happening in Washington, he said.
“It’s harder to find greater economic incompetence than we’ve seen from this administration, and we have almost nothing to show for it except $1.2 trillion in debt that’s putting us on the way to becoming the next Greece,” Hensarling said.
And aside from jobs, Hensarling said, the Greek debt disaster has helped Republicans make the argument that the deficit has to be reined in. “Jobs today are important but people want to know, How you are going to pay off this deficit?'” Hensarling said.
Republican pollster David Winston said a 9.9 percent unemployment rate leaves little for Democrats to crow about.
“The economy has basically gone from horrible to miserable,” he said.
And a House GOP aide said Democrats have failed to capitalize on the job numbers. “Even if there was a slight improvement in the economy, the Dems are making zero headway in driving that message because they are talking about other things,” the GOP aide said in an e-mail. “Plus, trying to brag about an uptick of 200K [jobs] when over 8 million Americans have lost their job makes them sound even more out-of-touch.”
Meanwhile, Democrats ripped Republicans as talking down the economy for political advantage despite mounting evidence the economy has turned the corner. “The only things Washington Republicans have contributed to the cleanup of the mess they left us are pessimism, fear and hot air,” said Doug Thornell, a spokesman for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.). “These guys bet everything on failure and from every important indicator including job growth, they have been proven wrong.”
Democrats argue that the recovery is still young and that Obama staved off an economic disaster. They also say that overall, the trend line on jobs has shown steady improvement since the stimulus package passed a little more than a year ago.
“When George Bush was leaving the White House we were losing 700,000 jobs a month,” a Democratic leadership aide said. “Now we’re adding 290,000. The economy is steadily recovering, and it’s not an accident.”
Another Democratic aide said the GOP’s fortunes may have peaked now that job growth has returned.
“I think they ran an excellent campaign — if the election was held in February,” the aide said.