Washington (CNN)–Senate Democratic leaders are increasingly anxious the persistently high unemployment rate poses a long-term threat to the economy, their constituents' well-being, and, consequently, their own political fortunes.
In a strategic shift beginning this week, designed to show their heightened concerns, Senate Democrats will try to put new focus on job creation, so it is on equal footing with deficit reduction, which Republicans have successfully championed. They are promising to do it through a series of high profile bills this summer – some to cut taxes, others to increase spending – aimed solely at job creation.
"This Congress convened in January with a single mandate from the American people: create jobs," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, on the Senate floor Monday.
Reid and other Democratic leaders are weighing a series of bills they think will put Washington's attention back on jobs and, they think, prove that Republicans are more interested in reducing the deficit than creating jobs.
The focus on deficit and debt reduction has been intense because of the talks Vice President Biden is leading to reach an agreement that would reduce the deficit while at the same time raising the country's debt ceiling. In explaining the Democrats' new focus, a top Senate Democratic leadership aide, who asked not to be identified in order to discuss the strategy, said, "We feel there is mood shift. Increasingly, editorials and op-eds are saying it's good to get the deficit under control, but when did we forget about job creation?"
At the top of the Democrats' list is a proposal to extend a 2% payroll tax cut adopted last year to help put additional dollars in the pockets of workers and help stimulate the economy. Democrats are considering giving employers a similar 2% break on their portion of payroll taxes in an effort to spur hiring.
The approximately $200 billion bill is a "clear, concise, crisp proposal" to give a tax break to employers and lower the cost of hiring new people," the aide said.
Tax breaks like this are something Republicans have supported historically and if they don't in this case it will be evidence job creation is not the GOP's top concern, the Democratic aide said.
Last week, two top GOP leaders, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, said they oppose extending the payroll tax break because it didn't help reduce unemployment and the payroll taxes fund Social
Security and Medicare, which can't afford a continued reduction in resources.
Another bill Democrats are considering in their "Jobs First" initiative would boost road and bridge construction spending through a new "infrastructure bank" that would help states finance their big public works projects.
Democrats are also increasingly confident a bipartisan deal will be reached soon on a new highway funding bill that would pump billions more into good-paying infrastructure jobs.
On "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was asked if there was anything else the government could do to bring down unemployment besides cutting taxes and reducing the deficit.
"We need to quit what we've been doing. It's obvious that the stimulus, borrowing all that money and spending it basically on government employees, didn't do any good," he said.
To create jobs, McConnell said, the Obama administration has to stop over-regulating the private sector.
"They don't need to come to us for permission to rein in these regulators who are really at work across the American economy making it very, very difficult for businesses to function."