Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday urged state lawmakers to lobby for House-passed initiatives endangered in the Senate, while Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell complained congressional Democrats were out of touch with voters.
The two leaders gave starkly different assessments of the country's current course in partisan-tinged speeches at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Their comments to the bipartisan gathering previewed potential election-year attacks by both parties in their struggle for control of Congress.
Pelosi credited last year's $787 billion stimulus package, passed over deep Republican objections, with creating or saving as many as 3.6 million jobs so far. She asserted that more jobs will be created in the first eight months of 2010 than in the eight years of Republican George W. Bush's presidency, though Republicans have frequently disputed those numbers.
"The fact is that those eight years took us into a financial crisis, a deep recession and took us into deep deficits," the California Democrat said.
A short time later, McConnell countered that the massive stimulus "hasn't kept us from losing another 2 1/2 million jobs" with unemployment at 9.5 percent.
The Kentucky Republican cited the stimulus and the landmark health care overhaul as prime examples of "far-reaching pieces of legislation that have been rushed through Congress on a party-line vote in the teeth of public opposition."
"So there's a serious and sustained disconnect between some in Washington and the rest of the country on issues that have major impact on people's lives, and it doesn't appear to be getting any better," McConnell said.
Both congressional leaders occasionally drew sporadic applause.
McConnell also ridiculed the federal response to the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the stimulus program, saying, "What about either one of those makes you want to give more power to Washington?"
Pelosi urged continued investments in education, energy efficiency and health care — which she called "the pillars of stability in this budget." She credited the stimulus program with putting people to work on transportation projects like rebuilding roads.
On that front, the speaker exhorted state lawmakers to take up the fight to renew elements of last year's stimulus bill. She touted such House-passed initiatives as giving states more money for Medicaid — the public health care program for the poor — and another measure injecting $10 billion in grants to school districts to avoid teacher layoffs.
Pelosi said those initiatives can ease the budget problems many states face, but she warned the measures won't pass without support from some Senate Republicans. Dozens of House-passed measures have stalled in the Senate.
She said as many as 30 states have based their budgets on the expectation that Congress will pass a six-month extension of increased federal spending on Medicaid.
"You are the most eloquent and persuasive voices on this subject," she told state lawmakers. "You know best why this is necessary."
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