The first two months of this year have brought millions of Americans – and our nation – good economic news. Due, in no small part, to President Obama’s economic policies, job growth and the broader economic forecasts are continuing an upward trend that has been gaining steam for the last two years.

On the jobs front, Alan Krueger, chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, has observed that the national jobs report (released early this month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) “. . . provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.”

I agree.

This month, I had the opportunity to chair a session of the Joint Economic Committee that discussed our employment outlook in depth. The facts we reviewed should make every objective American cautiously optimistic about the future.

First, America’s private sector (the primary engine of economic growth) is leading our recovery from the Bush Era Recession. The unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent in January (from a high of 10 percent in October 2009), and private sector payrolls increased by 257,000 jobs.

Second, the President’s vision of the economic growth that we could obtain by public investment through the Recovery Act is being realized. The American economy now has added private sector jobs for 23 months in a row, growing by 3.7 million payroll jobs over that period (and adding 2.2 million private sector jobs, on net, during the last 12 months alone).

Third, there are additional actions that the President and I both believe the Congress must take immediately if we are to sustain our growth toward a better economic future for America’s families.

The President’s Council of Economic Advisors chairman, Alan Krueger, focused sharply upon the first of these necessary congressional actions recently.

He observed that “We need even faster growth to put more Americans back to work. It is critical that we continue the economic policies that are helping us to dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the recession that began at the end of 2007.”

“Most importantly,” Alan Krueger continued, “we need to extend the payroll tax cut and continue to provide emergency unemployment benefits through the end of this year, and take the additional steps that President Obama proposed in his State of the Union address to create an economy built to last.”

Once again, I agree. Allow me to share just a few of the facts that the expert analysts shared with our Joint Economic Committee.

First, extending and expanding the payroll tax cut would put $1,500 into the pockets of the typical middle class family. In contrast, at least 400,000 American jobs could be lost if Republicans succeed in blocking the President’s plan to extend the payroll tax cut through the end of the year.

In addition, our Democratic plan to extend federal unemployment benefits for Americans who are out of work through no fault of their own (the right thing to do, morally) would also lead to an additional $1.5 billion in national economic growth, protecting 200,000 jobs that, otherwise, could be lost.

Now, with needed tax relief, 600,000 American jobs and $1.5 billion in economic growth at stake, we must ask ourselves (and the Republicans) some tough, but fair, questions:

Why do the President’s adversaries, both in the Congress and on the Republican presidential campaign trail, oppose tax relief for 160 million Americans while protecting massive tax cuts for 300,000 people who are making more than a million dollars per year?

What, exactly, is it about hundreds of thousands of Americans going back to work, supporting their families and paying for their homes that these Republicans don’t like?
I do not know the entire answer to these questions – but I do know that Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been both candid and clear for the last 3 years that the Republicans’ number one objective is to defeat President Obama in the 2012 Presidential Elections.

This Republican declaration, combined with their continued obstruction, could make one suspect that they fear an improving economy will enhance the prospects for Barack Obama’s reelection.

In response, I remind these Republicans that the country must come first. We should all strive toward the single, unifying goal of continued growth for the American economy.

That would be the most successful political strategy for Democrats and Republicans alike.

The American people cannot wait for 2013. We in the Congress should do our own jobs and help more Americans go back to work now.”

This, I believe, is a bipartisan vision that all Americans will support.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives