Obama Uses Same Approach to Jobs Agenda That He Rejected for Health Care

Wednesday: President Obama speaks to reporters in the Oval Office of the White House on St. Patrick's Day. (AP)

Wednesday: President Obama speaks to reporters in the Oval Office of the White House on St. Patrick's Day. (AP)

When it comes to jobs, President Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress have no problem taking a step-by-step approach to putting millions of unemployed Americans back to work.

But when it comes to fixing health care, the president has refused to consider anything short of sweeping reform, despite pressure from Republicans and even some of his top advisers to start from scratch and employ an incremental approach.

The sharp contrast in how the administration has tackled the two issues has been a source of friction within Democratic ranks, as some lawmakers fear the administration's all-or-nothing approach to health care will cost them their jobs in November and possibly lead to a Republican takeover of Congress.

But Obama has thrown electoral caution to the wind, telling Republican lawmakers at a health care summit last month that if they maintained their opposition to his approach to reform, Democrats would close the deal without them. And if voters are not pleased with the results, he said, "then that's what elections are for."

"I think what it shows is a symbolic difference in priorities for Democrats," said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, a former top Capitol Hill aide.

"When Democrats see a problem in America, they want to throw a lot of money at it," he said, arguing that is the reason why the health care bill costs nearly a trillion dollars.

"And then you look at the relatively small $15 billion jobs bill that will have minimal impact on the economy. It's a failure of them to show up to work on America's number one priority," Bonjean said.

But Democratic strategist Bernard Whitman, a former pollster for President Clinton, told FoxNews.com that a piecemeal approach is right for creating jobs and not for reforming health care.

"The problem is that everything in health care is connected, and you can't effectuate change that will ultimately bring down health care costs without requiring everyone to carry insurance," he said.

"But the economy is in such a state that it will require regular and consistent efforts on the part of executives as well as Congress to reboot the economy," he said.

Congress' furious final push to pass health care reform by this weekend has overshadowed efforts by Democrats to show they are addressing the nation's unemployment problem.

The latest step came Wednesday, when the Senate voted 68-29 in favor of a bill that provides a temporary payroll tax holiday to companies that hire unemployed workers. Obama plans to sign the bill into law.

"It is the first of what I hope will be a series of jobs packages that help to continue to put people back to work," Obama said after the vote.

But critics say the measure won't actually do much to create jobs. Optimistic estimates predict the tax break could generate perhaps 250,000 jobs through the end of the year, just a tiny fraction of the 8.4 million jobs lost since the start of the recession.

The measure passed Wednesday is modest compared with last year's $862 billion stimulus package, which was sold as a jobs-producing recovery bill. 

A far larger jobs bill than the one that passed Wednesday would extend health insurance subsidies and jobless checks for the unemployed. But it has hit a snag as the House and the Senate wrangle over how to finance the legislation.

Bonjean said Democrats are lacking an overall strategy to deal with the economic crisis and the incremental approach they using for job creation should have been employed on health care.

"You have this massive health care bill that's confusing, and Democrats are getting clobbered by it," he said. "A wise strategy would be to divide it up to draw bipartisan support."

But Whitman said Democrats will avoid major losses in November if they can "clearly explain what they've done to help restart the economy, to restart jobs and get us back on track.

"And I think it's a good record," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.