WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats will make President Barack Obama’s $180 billion proposal to spur the economy and create jobs a top priority if they keep control of the House of Representatives on November 2, a party leader told the Reuters Washington Summit on Wednesday.
Chris Van Hollen, head of the Democratic campaign effort in the House, predicted Democrats would retain a House majority in the elections and renew their focus on job growth.
“There are a number of items on the agenda, and our focus will continue to be on moving the economy forward and jobs,” Van Hollen said, adding that Obama’s proposed infrastructure investment and business tax breaks would be fully paid for and would not add to the annual deficit of nearly $1.5 trillion.
“People are going to have to make some difficult decisions,” he said. “At the end of the day the deficit matters.”
Obama’s 10-year proposal includes tax write-offs for businesses, funding for infrastructure improvements and a tax credit for business research and development.
Van Hollen said Obama’s proposal for an infrastructure bank to finance improvement projects should be extended to the clean energy sector.
“There is a whole lot of capital on the sidelines that would be invested in more clean energy projects if we did more in the way of not just loan guarantees but low interest loans,” he said.
“China and some of these other countries are cleaning our clock when it comes to clean energy. This is a strategic decision we should make as a country.”
Republicans have been skeptical of Obama’s proposals, saying they are reluctant to back more spending after the $814 economic stimulus passed last year failed to spark a drop in unemployment.
Van Hollen questioned the Republican commitment to deficit reduction, however, given their support for extending expiring tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans that would cost $700 billion over 10 years.
“These guys want to add 700 billion to the deficit,” he said. Obama and Democrats have pushed a plan to extend tax cuts to those families making less than $250,000 a year while letting the lower rate for the wealthiest Americans expire.
Van Hollen acknowledged the difficult political environment for Democrats, who are struggling against a tide of voter unhappiness with Obama’s agenda, the stuttering economy and persistent high unemployment.
Republicans are threatening to seize control of the House and perhaps even the Senate in November’s elections, a switch that would slam the brakes on Obama’s agenda.
But Van Hollen said Democrats will retain a majority in the House as voters learn more about the Republican agenda, which he said was the same as the policies of former President George W. Bush.
“I think we’re going to discover that whatever serious plans they put out on an agenda are a Xerox copy of Bush’s economic agenda,” he said of the plan by House Republicans to unveil their legislative agenda on Thursday. “I think it’s going to be the Bush economic agenda on steroids.”
Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Leslie Adler