Senate Leaders Spar Over Jobs

Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:21pm

Partisan bickering over the economy flared on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, with Democrats and Republicans in the Senate accusing each other of obstructing job-growth legislation for political gain.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Republicans in the House and Senate were both to blame. The Nevada Democrat pointed the finger at Senate Republicans for holding up the ratification of three free-trade agreements over President Barack Obama’s request that approval be accompanied by federal assistance for any displaced workers. Reid said House Republicans have buried patent reform legislation and the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization for — in his view — similarly irresponsible reasons. 

“I don’t want to get Speaker [John] Boehner [R-Ohio] in trouble, but there are times when I actually feel sorry for him,” Reid told reporters during a Capitol Hill news conference. “He’s got this group of people that just make no sense. The patent bill creates 300,000 jobs. We have an airport system that’s antiquated. You can go to Mongolia — they have a more modern system than we have.

“We have focused on jobs bills with limited success, because we can’t get the Republicans to agree that jobs are important,” the Senate Majority Leader added.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was equally critical of the Democrats.

The Kentucky Republican, noting last week’s May jobs report that showed anemic private sector employment growth and an uptick in the unemployment rate to 9.1 percent, suggested that Democrats have been disingenuous in claiming that their legislation would create jobs.

“Our friends on the other side of the aisle will call any bill that comes up, now, a jobs bill,” McConnell said.

The Minority Leader added that Republicans may be willing to support federal assistance for displaced workers in order to get trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama ratified. But he said they would only do so if the Obama administration agrees to support the reinstatement of fast-track trade promotion authority.

However, other Republican leaders were more critical of the president on this issue. Senate Finance ranking member Orrin Hatch (Utah) said there is no reason to include trade adjustment assistance in a deal on free-trade agreements. Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said the Obama administration’s policies on trade and other economic issues continue to restrain economic growth.

“As much as the president and this administration talk about jobs and the economy, every policy that they put in place hurts job creation and makes it more difficult for our small businesses to grow the economy and create jobs,” Thune said.