Vice President Joe Biden arrives to meet with House and Senate leaders to… (J. Scott Applewhite, Associated…)
Reporting from Washington — As Vice President Joe Biden met with congressional leaders Thursday to try to resolve the impasse over government spending, Republicans were beginning to worry they were losing ground on voters' top concern: jobs.
House Republican leaders have argued that their drive to reduce federal deficits is connected to job creation. But strategists acknowledge they have yet to succeed in making that link with voters.
"The argument gets lost in the talk about deficit and debts and percentage cuts," said Vin Weber, a Republican strategist and former congressman. "You lose track of the point: that this is all being done in the context of growing the economy."
President Obama had asked for Thursday's talks, and Biden brought a new proposal: trimming $6.5 billion from current operating budgets through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. That's far short of the $60 billion in cuts that the GOP-controlled House passed last month. Republicans rejected the offer as inadequate.
Earlier this week, lawmakers passed a stopgap measure to keep the government operating for two more weeks, averting a shutdown at midnight Friday. But reaching a longer-term deal is more difficult, with congressional leaders — and the political parties themselves — deeply divided over how much to cut.
A GOP aide familiar with the talks said negotiators had agreed to hold separate votes in the Senate as soon as next week on both the White House proposal and on the $60 billion in House-passed cuts. That would be a way to gauge the extent of support or opposition for each proposal, said the aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the issue's political sensitivity.
"We had a good meeting, and the conversation will continue," Biden said.
For GOP leaders, agreeing on a long-term deal is difficult because their determined freshman class came to Washington with a mission: to reduce the nation's debt load by shrinking government.
So Republican leaders argue that cutting spending will lead to job growth. But the message does not seem to appeal to recession-weary voters.
New polls show that Americans want the federal government to focus on job creation and economic growth. Reining in government spending ranks second.
A majority agrees that deficits are a problem, a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll showed Thursday. But Americans oppose specific cuts to Head Start preschools, education and college loan programs, which were among reductions in the spending bill passed by the House last month.
As the debate continues, Republicans hope to step up their emphasis on jobs. GOP leaders encourage lawmakers to mention job creation in their public comments.
"The American people want us in Washington to spend less of their money so that we can create an environment where jobs can be created," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), a party leader.
But freshman GOP lawmakers are less likely to push that point. They more often cite deficit reduction as their chief mandate.
Democrats have sought to exploit this perceived mismatch by asking almost daily what the GOP has done to create jobs since winning control of the House.
"If the cuts are about undermining the education of our children, harming the creation of jobs and also undermining our economic recovery," Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said Thursday, "I think we have to subject those cuts to some pretty harsh scrutiny."
Michael A. Memoli in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.