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Whatever else happens, the issue is still jobs

Published: Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

There was a lot to talk about when House Speaker John Boehner appeared before reporters recently for the first time since the holiday break. There are continuing fights over Obamacare. Immigration reform. Appropriations bills. The debt ceiling. The Democratic push for the president’s “inequality agenda.”

Given all that, what did Boehner say in his brief remarks? “Our focus will continue to be on jobs.”

“All during the break, I kept hearing from people that they wanted us to focus on the economy,” Boehner explained. “The American people are still asking the question: Where are the jobs?”

Indeed they are; there are a zillion polls that prove it. And for Republicans, who aim to keep the House and win control of the Senate, the biggest 2014 challenge will be to keep their own focus on jobs amid all the other distractions of a hotly contested election year.

The House GOP leadership met at a retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore recently – as it turns out, right after another dismal jobs report was released. Boehner and other top GOP officials are working on a jobs agenda for the coming year, which they will present to the 232 members of the House Republican conference at another retreat later this month.

It’s customary for the leaders to look at poll data on what issues Americans think are most important in deciding how they will vote for Congress. In a just-completed survey that will be part of this weekend’s discussion, the top issue is – no surprise – jobs and the economy, named by 42 percent of respondents. Other issues are far behind – health care, at 10 percent; education, at 9 percent; and federal spending and the deficit, also at 9 percent. The public’s priorities are pretty clear.

That doesn’t mean House Republicans won’t talk about Obamacare. It also doesn’t mean they can’t talk about spending, a perennial concern of the party’s base. But it means the main focus will continue to be jobs.

Not only is unemployment still high, but the nation’s workforce participation rate has fallen to alarming levels as millions of unemployed and discouraged workers give up hope of ever finding a job. When it comes to the public’s concerns, Boehner appears determined to remember that the big question in 2014 is the same as it was in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013: Where are the jobs?

• Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.

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