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Focus on jobs as Obama, Pelosi face Democrats

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to calm the fears of Democrats nervous after a string of election losses.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to calm the fears of Democrats nervous after a string of election losses.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pelosi talks about jobs, health care at Democrats' winter meeting
  • President Obama will tout his small business initiatives at separate event
  • Sens. Schumer and Hatch unveil first jobs creation bill of the year

Washington (CNN) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seized on the falling unemployment rate Friday as evidence of Democratic-led success in reversing the economic downturn.

The speaker also promised a renewed emphasis on job growth and health care reform as she addressed the increasingly anxious leadership of her party at the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting.

"Today we know that people need jobs," she declared. Congress will take new steps "to ensure their economic security."

President Obama will stress the need for small business job growth later in the day at a separate event in Maryland.

The two leaders' remarks will come on the heels of a new Labor Department report indicating that the national unemployment rate dropped from 10 percent to 9.7 percent in January. While Democrats are certain to trumpet the news, they nevertheless remain concerned that they will face a political backlash from a public that, by all accounts, remains extremely worried about the economy.

Politically, Pelosi and Obama also find themselves in an uncomfortable position as their party's centrist and liberal wings are at odds over the best way for Democrats to recover from a string of recent election losses.

Moderates facing tough challenges in the looming midterm elections are stressing issues such as the need to reduce spiraling deficits. Progressives warn that a failure to more aggressively pursue issues such as health care reform will depress turnout this November from an already deflated and angry political base.

In Congress, Democrats remain divided over how to proceed in the wake of Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown's upset victory, which stripped Democrats of their 60-seat Senate supermajority. Brown's win gave Senate Republicans the power to block most legislative initiatives.

For the near term, however, most senior Democrats appear to be in agreement on the need to stress job growth. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said Thursday that he could call for a vote on a new job stimulus bill as soon as Monday. He indicated he'd like to see congressional approval of a measure before lawmakers recess for the President's Day holiday next Friday.

With the balance of power changed in the Senate, Democrats have moved away from introducing a comprehensive bill similar to the $154 billion legislation passed by the House in December. Instead, they will likely push through smaller measures in stages.

Reid said he's hoping for bipartisan cooperation, but is prepared to proceed solely with Democratic support. Republicans, however, said they have not been asked to the table.

"This is a bill the Democrats are writing without input from Republicans," a GOP aide said. "If Democrats wanted a bipartisan bill, they would invite Republicans in to help write it."

The Democrats' agenda includes: Renewing existing highway legislation for a year, which is expected to result in one million jobs, Reid said. Also, enacting small business and job creation tax credits. And extending Build America Bonds, a stimulus measure that helps states and municipalities fund capital construction projects.

The president's fiscal 2011 budget, unveiled Monday, would direct $50 billion to job creation measures, including clean energy initiatives and road projects.

Infrastructure is where the jobs are, and we need to move in that direction rapidly.
--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
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"Infrastructure is where the jobs are, and we need to move in that direction rapidly," Reid said.

Top Democrats would also like to enact the president's "cash for caulkers" proposal, which would subsidize making homes and buildings more energy efficient.

The first job creation bill of the new year was unveiled on Wednesday. The measure, promoted by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-New York, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, would absolve any private-sector employer who hires a worker who's been unemployed for at least 60 days of paying the 6.2 percent share of the employee's Social Security payroll tax for the rest of 2010.

Also, employers who keep these workers on the payroll continuously for a year would be eligible for a $1,000 tax credit on their 2011 tax returns.

Democrats' other measures, however, aren't likely to get as warm a reception from the GOP. Already, several Republican senators have come out against using TARP bank bailout funds to jumpstart lending to small businesses and raising taxes on the wealthy.

Since Obama outlined his job creation push in his State of the Union speech last week, he has traveled the country promoting his small business initiatives. These include jumpstarting small-business lending by giving $30 billion in TARP funds to banks and providing these firms with a $5,000 tax credit for each addition to their payrolls.

CNN's Tami Luhby and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.