Congress Scatters for Summer Recess on Heels of Tepid Job Growth
Posted at 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 2
The White House reacted to today’s middling employment numbers by insisting that the less-than-expected addition of 162,000 new jobs is just a reminder the economy won’t get any better until the sequester is turned off.
Republicans in Congress reacted by saying much less than they usually do about the monthly jobs reports — and then turning out the lights at the Capitol for the next five weeks.
That reticence was in part because the headline-grabber was a July unemployment rate of 7.4 percent, a drop of two-tenths of a point to the lowest figure since Barack Obama was elected president.
Beyond that, the GOP leadership has gone essentially mute on the sequester and its strategy for keeping the government operating beyond Sept. 30, the last day of fiscal 2013.
That’s because their caucuses this week essentially rejected both of the clearest options: House Republicans on Wednesday signaled they were unwilling to maintain the deep spending cuts in domestic programs for another year, and on Thursday their Senate colleagues signaled their almost unanimous unwillingness to abandon them.
Senators then scattered for the summer, leaving House members on their own to close up the Capitol shop this afternoon.
The House said goodbye after passing a pair of GOP measures designed to help House rank-and-file members with their political messaging during the August recess — without any hope the Democratic Senate will ever consider either bill.
One would require Congress itself to sign off on any new federal rules with more than modest economic impact. The other would prohibit the IRS from implementing any provisions of the 2010 health care law — the 40th time, by most counts, the House has voted to repeal, defund or otherwise block Obamacare.
Republicans describe both pieces of legislation as job creators, arguing that businesses will be eager to expand and bolster their payrolls once they know Washington is not going to be regulating them as much.
“Persistent long-term unemployment, discouraged people leaving the workforce, and millions taking part-time jobs because they have no choice are not signs of a strong recovery,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. “While the president is giving speeches, Republicans are taking action.”
The president says the best thing for the economy would be federal investments in infrastructure spending and dropping the across-the-board spending reductions that began this spring.
“With the recovery entering its fifth year, we need to build on the progress we have made so far and now is not the time for Washington to impose self-inflicted wounds,” said Alan Krueger, chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.
The facts from the latest Labor Department surveys don’t give either side a preponderance of the persuasive evidence. Instead, they offer all of Washington this week’s second reminder that the economic recovery remains modest. (The economy grew at an improving but still tepid 1.7 percent annual rate in April, May and June, the government said Wednesday.)
July was the 34th consecutive month of jobs gains, although revised data for the previous two months, combined with the new figure, show the economy has created an average 175,000 jobs a month since May — not enough to appreciably absorb the backlog of people who have been without work since the recession.
The job gains were concentrated in retail, food services, financial activities and wholesale trade. Construction employment fell, but manufacturing rose for the first time in five months, with 6,000 new positions added. Government employment at all levels stayed essentially flat.
The jobless rate, which comes from a different survey, ticked down either because people who were hunting for jobs found work or gave up looking.
The unemployment rate for adults younger than 29 was 11.6 percent; for African-Americans, it was 12.6 percent.