Labor, Democrats try to put political focus on jobs

With the markets panicked and Washington paralyzed, organized labor is trying to use the congressional recess to change the national political debate from the deficit debt-ceiling to how to stimulate job growth in a sluggish economy.

But U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, told labor and community organizers Tuesday that congressional Republicans are fixated on debt at the expense of jobs, and that the Obama White House has yet to show it can shape a new narrative.

“On my side of the aisle, I think there is a hunger for a clear plan and a clear sense of direction,” Himes said after the meeting in Bridgeport. “I’ve had some very difficult discussion with Democrats across the spectrum over the last week. And there is a real hunger for a sense of plan, direction, and leadership.”

That hunger will only grow with the approach of the 2012 elections, when President Obama’s re-election and Democrats’ chances of regaining control of Congress are expected to ride on the economy–and their ability to articulate a vision for creating jobs.

Himes, who credits his election in 2008 to the heavy Democratic turnout generated by Obama, is hardly alone among Democrats in looking for a strong message on the economy from the president, who remains relatively popular in the state.

In Connecticut, Obama’s speech on the economy Monday only seemed to inspire Republicans. The state GOP used the Democratic president’s televised remarks as part of email appeal to donors.

“Just this afternoon in his remarks from the White House, President Obama spoke clearly to the guiding philosophy and long term plan of the Democrat Party, claiming there was no room left for cuts in domestic spending, and telegraphing his intentions to raise taxes on all Americans,” said Jerry Labriola Jr., the new GOP state chairman.

Labriola blamed Obama for the downgrade by Standard & Poor’s of the U.S. credit rating.

The message was part of a pitch for funds by a state party trying to revive itself in the runup to 2012, when it hopes to enlarge its minority in the Connecticut General Assembly and elect a Republican to Congress.

But as the state Republican Party tries to score political points at the expense of the president, Himes and congressional Democrats in Connecticut are just as intent on tagging the GOP as captive to a Tea Party willing to risk a default on U.S. debt as leverage in negotiations over deficit reduction.

“I’ve stood back in this Congress and watched the triumph of ultimatums and foolishness,” Himes said. “The right wing says default is not a big deal. They bring us to the brink of catastrophe, then the label that the Obama downgrade.”

Himes met Tuesday at a community center in Bridgeport with labor and community organizers. U. S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, will hold a similar roundtable discussion and press conference Thursday in New Britain.

“Connecticut workers want Congress to act on the jobs crisis with the same urgency that was brought to the manufactured political crisis over the debt ceiling,” said Lori J. Pelletier, the secretary-treasurer of the Connecticut AFL-CIO.

Pelletier said the goal is to end what she calls “the Hatfields and McCoy” feuding in Washington and to begin a debate on job creation.

A coalition that includes the AFL-CIO is organizing similar congressional roundtables across the nation. In Connecticut, with an all-Democratic delegation that endorse, the discussions are amiable.

“Very different meetings are going on elsewhere,” said John Murphy, an organizer with the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, which is part of the coalition.

The focus on jobs by labor and congressional Democrats echoes the emphasis by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is on a statewide jobs tour that will culminate in a special session in September on economic development.

Malloy will be in Windsor Locks on Wednesday, holding a roundtable discussion with businesses located around Bradley International Airport.

“They take a different path to get to the same issue the governor is talking about,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior adviser.

Himes said he expects that Northeast Republicans and moderate independents are aghast at the willingness of the House Republican majority in Washington to risk economic chaos by delaying raising the debt ceiling until the last minute.

But he was unsure that Democrats benefited.

“The last six months have hurt both parties. There is a strong ‘pox on both your houses’ sentiment,” Himes said.

Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, the leader of the Republican minority in state House, said Connecticut Republicans are intent on not being drawn into the Washington debate.

“Our job is to focus on Connecticut,” he said.

Cafero said he is happy to have a debate on jobs, saying his members intend to spend the next year talking about how Malloy, a Democrat, has discouraged job growth with higher taxes and an anti-business policies, such a new mandate on some businesses to offer paid sick days.

“Those things have to be pointed out, whether in  2012 or 2014,” Cafero said. “You can have all the jobs tours you want or roundtable discussions. The facts are the facts. People are hurting out there that can’t get jobs.”