By COREY BOLES
WASHINGTON — The White House on Sunday urged the Senate to pass legislation quickly to stimulate growth in the moribund jobs market, as it ramps up efforts to address bread-and-butter issues important to voters.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said the administration was seeking a jobs bill that would cost about $100 billion. “The president hopes that the next order of business the Senate will take up is this package,” Mr. Gibbs said.
Despite indications that an economic recovery is under way, the national jobless rate has remained high, and polls suggest that voters are increasingly dissatisfied with the way the government is handling the issue. Mr. Obama and Democratic lawmakers, with an eye towards this year’s mid-term election, are seeking to focus more on job growth, putting efforts to overhaul the health-care system on a slower track.
Mr. Gibbs said the jobs-creation plan should include a tax credit for employers who hire new workers, increase salaries or expand hours for existing workers, as well as spending on infrastructure projects.
He said the administration also planned to lend out money repaid to the Treasury’s financial markets-rescue program, to community banks that are the main providers of capital to small businesses.
“Obviously we are not creating the jobs we would like, and I think that some additional recovery or stimulus money is important in order to again create an environment for small businesses” where they feel confident hiring new workers, Mr. Gibbs said.
The House of Representatives passed legislation incorporating some aspects of the administration’s plan in December.
The Department of Commerce reported Friday that the U.S. economy grew by 5.7% in the final three months of 2009, the second consecutive quarter of expansion, and the fastest quarterly rate of growth in six years. But the unemployment rate remains at 10%, and when people who have stopped looking for work, or are only able to find part-time employment are added, that figure jumps to 17%.
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm on Sunday welcomed the White House push for a new jobs program. “It’s overdue, like a million jobs overdue, you bet it’s overdue,” she told CNN.
Michigan has been among the hardest-hit states in the economic downturn. The jobless rate in the state reached 14.6% in December, the highest in the country.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D., N.D.) said on Cspan’s “The Newsmakers” that the president made a mistake by pushing for an overhaul of the health-care system in his first year in office. “A year ago, it should have been all the economy all the time,” Mr. Dorgan said.
He and Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) are leading the drive in the Senate to craft a jobs bill. But Mr. Dorgan on Sunday sought to play down expectations that actions by the federal government would be able to kick-start widespread job creation.
“The government doesn’t create jobs by and large,” he said. “The private sector creates jobs, especially small- and medium-size businesses.”
Mr. Dorgan is a moderate Democrat who announced last month that he won’t seek a fourth term in the Senate in the November elections.
Senate Democratic leadership aides have said details of a jobs package could be unveiled this week.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) told CNN on Sunday that Republicans would look at what the administration had proposed, but declined to commit to working with Democrats to pass a jobs package.
Both he and Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), another member of the Republican Senate leadership team, who appeared on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, said the best thing the Obama administration could do to stimulate job growth would be to shelve its health-care plan.
Write to Corey Boles at firstname.lastname@example.org