Congress returns with little hope of bipartisanship

WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of Congress spent August listening to constituents describe their economic struggles. This week, the lawmakers return to Washington to see whether there’s enough bipartisanship left to make things better.

Republicans and Democrats agree that job creation is the first priority, but there’s little indication so far that the two sides will come together.

President Barack Obama, who will address a joint session of Congress on Thursday, challenged Republicans in a Labor Day speech to put country ahead of party and work with Democrats on a jobs package. He said more than 1 million unemployed construction workers are ready to rebuild deteriorating roads and bridges.

Majority Republicans in the House, however, have been unwilling to spend money on new construction projects — a strong signal that they’ll give Obama’s address a cool reception.

Besides spending on public works, Obama said he wants pending trade deals passed to open new markets for U.S. goods. He also said he wants Republicans to prove they’ll fight as hard to cut taxes for the middle class as they do for profitable oil companies and the wealthiest Americans.

The president is expected to call for continuing a payroll tax cut for workers and jobless benefits for the unemployed. Some Republicans oppose extending the payroll tax cut, calling it an unproven job creator that will only add to the nation’s massive debt. The tax cut extension is set to expire Jan. 1.

Republicans may go along with tax break proposals but won’t be friendly to ideas to extend jobless benefits. They also cite huge federal budget deficits in expressing opposition to vast new spending on jobs programs.

House Republicans have prepared an autumn jobs agenda that centers on repealing what they say are job-destroying environmental and labor regulations. The first bill, slated for the week of Sept. 12, would prevent the National Labor Relations Board from restricting where an employer can locate in the United States. It grows out of a complaint issued by the NLRB that Boeing Co. was punishing union workers with plans to transfer an assembly line from Washington state to South Carolina.

The anti-regulation bills are likely to hit a dead end in the Democratic-controlled Senate. But the threat of them prompted Obama last week to scrap tougher Environmental Protection Agency regulations on ozone, a key ingredient of smog that causes asthma and other lung illnesses.

While talking jobs, lawmakers will have one eye on the initial meetings of the supercommittee established under legislation enacted in early August to increase the federal debt ceiling. The bipartisan committee has until Nov. 23 to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts. If it fails to do so or if Congress fails to approve its recommendations by Christmas, automatic spending cuts covering both defense and domestic programs would be triggered starting in 2013.

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