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Wasserman Schultz (AP/Photo by David Adame)

Economic woes

Congress | Democrats take 'ownership' of the economy while Republicans point to downward trends

WASHINGTON-It's the economy stupid.

That political adage, used by Bill Clinton to derail George H.W. Bush's reelection bid in 1992, is picking up steam again here in the nation's capital. This time the political party tables are turned: Now it is Republicans seeing the dire state of the country's economy as their best bet for stopping Democrat Barack Obama's push for a second White House term.

Recent reports have given Republicans plenty of ammunition.

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For instance, the United States failed to meet predictions in creating only 54,000 jobs in May. The unemployment rate rose for the second straight month and has hovered at around 9 percent the last two months. The average length of unemployment now has reached a record high of 39.7 weeks.

There's more: Average gas prices, currently at $3.67 a gallon, are nearly a dollar higher than last year. The housing crisis continues with home equity at its lowest levels since World War II, and wages remain stagnant while the cost of living last month had its biggest hike since July 2008.

"We own the economy," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said Wednesday in a breakfast forum sponsored by Politico. "We own the beginning of the turnaround, and we want to make sure that we continue that pace of recovery."

As the new Democratic Party chairwoman, Wasserman Schultz has had an inauspicious debut: She told David Gregory of NBC's Meet the Press last Sunday that "we were able to, under President Obama's leadership, turn this economy around."

Those comments were music to the ears of Republicans: Having Democrats openly take ownership of the economy can do nothing but help conservatives in the 2012 election they way things are going. And Republican congressional lawmakers wasted no time, spending much of this week jumping on these downward trends as clear signs that Obama's policies are not working.

Exactly one year ago, on June 17, the White House dubbed summer 2010 as "Recovery Summer." The administration unveiled a six-week focus on how the federal government's stimulus package would fuel infrastructure projects that would, in turn, create jobs through the end of last year.

"Unfortunately it wasn't a summer of recovery," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. "In fact it wasn't a fall, winter, spring of recovery."

Republicans were not alone in their satire-even Jon Stewart on his Daily Show mocked Obama's recent comments that the economy has just hit a few "bumps on the road."

House Republicans have introduced what they call a legislative blueprint for creating jobs. It focuses on easing government regulations, capping at 25 percent the federal tax rate for businesses and individuals, and implementing congressional review of all government regulations on small businesses.

This plan comes as a new report released Tuesday by the National Federation of Independent Business showed that small business owners foresee the worst hiring prospects in eight months. In this survey, nearly a third of small businesses blamed taxes and government requirements for their reluctance to hire.

Obama got a firsthand taste of this uncertainty on Monday. Appearing at a Durham, N.C., company that manufactures energy-efficient LED lighting, the president learned that the government permitting process is delaying some projects for years and causing others to be abandoned.

"Shovel-ready was not as . . . shovel-ready as we expected," Obama responded to laughter.

The shovel-ready joke referred to the Obama administration's hailing of 2009's economic stimulus package as legislation that would create a bevy of projects that could start right away and immediately hire workers.

Then the administration pledged that the stimulus would keep the unemployment rate from going over 8 percent. But that jobless rate now stands at 9.1 percent, and the nation has lost 2.5 million jobs since the start of the Obama administration.

As private-sector growth remains stagnant, the federal government continues to grow: Federal regulators are hiring at a rate of three times that of the private sector.

"We can't spend our way to prosperity," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

While lawmakers continue to blame one another for the nation's economic woes, it became clear this week that at least one segment of the population has weathered the financial storm: congressional lawmakers. According to annual financial disclosure statements released by lawmakers on Wednesday, Capitol Hill politicians are not suffering too much. In fact, many are making money despite the bad times. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's net worth jumped 62 percent last year. She reported a minimum worth of $43.4 million.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell reported a minimum net worth of $9.8 million-a nearly 29 percent boost from his disclosure form last year. House Republican Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia is worth no less than $3.1 million.

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