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US Congress Returns as President Calls for Action on Jobs

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) announces that Alan Krueger (L) will serve as the Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, in the Rose Garden of the White House, Washington, D.C., August 29, 2011.
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) announces that Alan Krueger (L) will serve as the Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, in the Rose Garden of the White House, Washington, D.C., August 29, 2011.

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Cindy Saine

Members of the U.S. Congress are returning to work in Washington after their August recess, with the nationwide unemployment rate holding stubbornly at more than nine percent.  President Barack Obama is set to address a joint session of Congress on Thursday to announce his new employment proposal.

Lawmakers left Washington after a bitter partisan battle between Republicans and Democrats over raising the debt ceiling that resulted in a last-minute deal to avert default.  

Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, a Republican, faced off against President Barack Obama, a Democrat, with Republicans refusing to include any tax increases in the debt deal.

"I stuck my neck out a mile to try to get an agreement with the president of the United States.  I stuck my neck out a mile ...  Put something on the table, tell us where you are!" Boehner said.

Veteran political analyst Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute explained that this August was different for lawmakers returning to their home districts after what he termed the debt ceiling "debacle."

"Members of Congress are well aware that their approval ratings are the lowest that they have ever been since we have been reporting these things.  Most members did not do what they normally do in the August recess, hold a whole series of town meetings to get the pulse of the public.  They are frightened to hold those town meetings because they are filled with angry people and disruptions," Ornstein noted..

Recent public-opinion polls show that more than 80 percent of Americans disapprove of the way members of Congress are doing their jobs.

Those lawmakers who were brave enough to hold town meetings did face some raw anger, such as one man who spoke up at a rally for Republican Representative Jeff Miller in Pensacola, Florida. "I am madder than hell!" he said.

To resolve the debt crisis, President Obama and congressional leaders agreed to create what they call a Super Committee, made up of 12 members, six Republicans and six Democrats, to hammer out an agreement to reduce the deficit.  Reporter Jonathan Allen of Politico explains.

"You have got this super committee that is going to be determining up to a trillion and a half dollars in deficit reduction, they will all be very focused on that, they have all been hearing from their constituents about what programs to cut, what programs to save,  whether or not taxes should be a part of that mix.  And in addition to that they are going to have a whole year's worth of government spending bills to do, the fiscal 2012 bills, the new year for the government starts on October first, none of that is done yet."

Norman Ornstein says the American public wants Congress to pivot away from a single-minded focus on debt to jobs.  But he said in his decades as an observer of U.S. politics, he has never seen a more dysfunctional government.

"Now the basic reality is if Barack Obama is for it, it does not matter what it is, you are going to get a unified Republican opposition.  And we know that the battle over debt is not simply a battle over debt, it is a surrogate for this larger question of whether we can have a revolution and reduce government back to really what is was before the New Deal, and Franklin Roosevelt," Ornstein stated.  "And you have got a large group of people, not just Tea Party freshmen, but more senior Republicans determined to use every element and tactic and weapon at their disposal to make that happen.  That makes this a different era."

Despite the fierce opposition that the president has met from the Republican-controlled House, Obama plans to head to Capitol Hill Thursday to deliver a major speech on putting Americans back to work.  He is expected to appeal to lawmakers to put politics aside to take bold action to create jobs, but they are all keenly aware that 2012 is an election year.

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