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Drop in unemployment doesn't mesh with Republicans' script

The news Friday that unemployment has dropped a full percentage point since November comes at a tricky time for the GOP, whose political message is centered around the argument that Obama's policies have been job-killers.

April 02, 2011|By James Oliphant, Washington Bureau
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, center, joins Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill to unveil the proposed Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, which would force Congress to pass a balanced budget each year.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, center, joins Senate Republicans… (EPA )

Reporting from Washington — The news that unemployment dropped again amid signs that the economy is gaining steam arrives at a perilous moment for the GOP, which has fashioned much of its political message around the argument that President Obama's policies suppress job growth.

According to the Labor Department, the jobless rate has dropped a full percentage point — to 8.8% — since November 2010, coincidentally when the GOP made its major gains in Congress and seized control of the House.

Key Republicans reacted Friday by saying the numbers were good, but not good enough. But given the state of play on Capitol Hill, with a government shutdown looming and a Republican bloodthirst for more spending cuts, there was little more to say beyond that.

"Even with this good news, far too many people remain out of work and we need to continue our efforts in Washington to foster pro-growth policies that will help businesses small and large to innovate and expand," said Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader.

"Ultimately, the goal continues to be long-term job growth which we cannot achieve so long as Democrats insist on spending money we don't have," added Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. "Instead of attacking Republicans, President Obama and the Democrats should step up and work with Republicans to pass a fiscally responsible plan that cuts spending, grows jobs and keeps the federal government running."

The GOP has expended much of its energy attacking the president and Hill Democrats for the healthcare overhaul, environmental regulations and other policies they say have kept the economy stagnant.

Since taking power, Republicans have coalesced around a two-pronged message: Only by rolling back Obama's policies and radically slashing the federal budget can sustainable growth occur.

But Friday's numbers undercut that argument to a degree, handing the White House a weapon with which it can argue that the president's economic policies are working and that Republican obstructionism could halt the recovery's forward momentum.

"Nearly two years after one of the worst recessions we've ever seen, our economy is showing signs of real strength," Obama said at an event Friday in Landover, Md. "Today we learned that we added 230,000 private sector jobs last month. That makes 1.8 million private sector jobs created in the last 13 months. And the unemployment rate has now fallen a full point in the last four months. The last time that happened was the recovery of 1984."

And 1984, of course, is when President Reagan was elected to a second term in a landslide.

The news may place even more pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to cut a deal with Senate Democrats to avert a shutdown, even if such an accord will be decried by conservatives and "tea party" Republicans.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Democratic messenger on the Hill, said as much Friday.

"This sign of jobs growth shows the president's economic plan is starting to work," Schumer said. "We should stick with it, and quickly reach a budget deal to avert a government shutdown that would risk these fragile gains."

Boehner, however, is still showing signs of wanting to placate the restless conservatives in his caucus. Friday morning, a crop of House freshman held a press conference on the steps of the Senate that urged senators to pass a new budget bill that can then be sent to the House, something Democratic leaders have no interest in doing. They would prefer to reach an agreement with Boehner on a bill that both chambers can pass.

The unemployment news also comes at a time when Obama is expected to soon formally announce his reelection plans, and it gives his prospective campaign a boost at a time when uncertainty in Libya and the Middle East have been distracting voters from his economic message.

But potential pitfalls lie ahead for the White House. Some economists continue to warn that rising fuel and food prices could hamper the recovery, with Americans having less disposable income to spend this spring and summer.

james.oliphant@latimes.com

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