WASHINGTON – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said Tuesday that Congress will focus on two main issues in the 2010 legislative session: creating jobs and reducing the budget deficit.
In a series of meetings with reporters beginning at the National Press Club Tuesday morning, Hoyer laid out the key issues that Democrats will take up this year and offered a preview of what to expect from President Obama’s State of the Union address Wednesday night.
“Creating jobs is priority number one. At the same time, however, we must deal effectively with our exploding debt … the country is rightfully worried that Washington is spending too much money,” Hoyer said. “Democrats get it, and we will do something about it.”
This year’s federal budget deficit is projected to be $1.35 trillion, roughly the same as last year’s record $1.4 trillion.
Obama’s White House has said the president will announce a federal spending freeze in the nonmilitary and discretionary budgets, as well as a package of assistance for middle-class families. He’s also expected to touch on the issues of immigration and gays in the military.
The renewed focus on the economy and fiscal responsibility comes as health care reform legislation, which Democrats have worked on for the past six months, looks increasingly uncertain in the wake of Republican Scott Brown’s victory in last week’s special Senate election in Massachusetts.
Brown crafted his campaign around a promise to be the 41st vote against health care reform in the Senate. His win broke the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority, leaving them one vote of shy of the 60 votes needed to push a health care bill through the Senate.
Hoyer said he expects Obama to mention health care in his speech before Congress, but the focus will be primarily on job creation and getting government spending under control.
There are “no easy choices” left on health care reform, Hoyer said, listing the options as either breaking the bill into smaller parts more likely to earn bipartisan support; House passage of the Senate version of the bill as is; or House passage of the Senate bill on the promise that subsequent legislation will solve differences later. Hoyer said each option has its “pluses and minuses,” but Democrats are still trying to figure out what’s doable.
Hoyer doesn’t expect Obama to offer answers about how to pass health care reform during Wednesday’s speech.
“I would be surprised if he says specifically how he hopes to get health care done,” said Hoyer.
While the prospect of health care reform hangs in limbo, Hoyer offered several suggestions for how Congress can act to create jobs and reduce the deficit.
Hoyer said that while the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act enacted in February has helped slow job losses, Congress should send another jobs bill to Obama’s desk as soon as possible.
He pointed to the Jobs for Main Street Act, a $174 billion spending package that the House passed in December, as an example of legislation that could help create jobs through infrastructure and public sector spending. Senate Democrats are in the process of drafting a similar bill of their own.
Hoyer backed the idea of a freeze on nonmilitary discretionary spending. Hoyer also said Congress is working to pass strong “pay-as-you-go” legislation, which would require legislators to figure out a way to pay for all new proposed spending.
The anger and frustration the American public — Massachusetts voters in particular — feels towards Washington is justified, Hoyer said, and the Democrats are going to work in 2010 to help solve the fundamental problems affecting families nationwide.
“The lesson from Massachusetts is they want to make sure we are focused on the needs of them and their families,” said Hoyer. “On job creation, on fiscal responsibility and growing our economy.”