Senate Democrats inch closer to jobs bill
By Ben Pershing
Senate Democrats are nearly done crafting the first of a planned series of job-creation bills, but are delaying a full rollout of the measure in hopes that they can attract some Republican support. Leaders hope to vote on the bill as early as Monday.
The basic outlines of the first jobs measure have already trickled out. With a total price tag of $81 billion, the bill would include a job creation tax credit, aid to small businesses so they can write off the costs of equipment purchases, a one-year reauthorization of the highway trust fund, money for Build America Bonds, extensions of expiring tax breaks, unemployment benefits and COBRA health insurance as well as a "fix" to prevent a cut in physician payments under Medicare.
Democratic leaders held a press conference Thursday morning on the jobs bill, but it quickly became clear at the event that they weren't ready to make an announcement on the specifics. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wouldn't confirm what would be in the bill or how much it would cost, and aides cautioned the measure isn't yet set in stone.
"We're not going to, in effect, step on our message," Reid said, even though the briefing was called for the express purpose of delivering the party message. "I hope there will be a bipartisan presentation today or tomorrow at the latest."
Reid did say he wanted the Senate to vote on the first jobs bill Monday, pending some cooperation from across the aisle. A cloture vote Monday would allow final passage later in the week.
"We hope to have a bipartisan proposal that I will lay down on Rule 14 today. I'm hopeful that's the case, but if not we'll lay down one ourselves," Reid said, referring to a Senate rule allowing a bill to be put on the chamber's floor calendar without going through the committee process
As he did during health-care reform negotiations, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is taking the lead in seeking out Republican backing for the jobs bill. A minimum of GOP support will become necessary Thursday afternoon, when Scott Brown (Mass.) is sworn in as Republicans' 41st senator.
The likeliest GOP candidate to work with Democrats is Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), who has collaborated with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to draft a measure that would let companies avoid paying Social Security taxes on new hires for the duration of 2010. That proposal is likely to be part of the first jobs bill that moves next week. Other job tax credit plans -- such as one offered by Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) that would provide companies with a credit based on how much they increase their payroll -- could be part of subsequent bills.
"We will move immediately on some issues, and then we will keep going on different issues as we go through the year, but with a laser-like focus on jobs, because that's what the American people want and need," Schumer said Thursday.
According to a document released by Democrats Thursday, later jobs bills will include provisions to help small businesses get loans; encourage energy efficiency renovations to homes and businesses; fund school, transportation and water infrastructure projects; and give aid to states so they can avoid laying off teachers, police and firefighters.
Reid said that for the remainder of the year, "our number one emphasis is going to be creating jobs."
Reid also reacted sharply to a reporter's question that suggested "much of your agenda is paralyzed now" and that Democrats are plagued by internal divisions.
"I think you're imagining a lot of things that don't exist," Reid said. "We don't agree on everything, but we certainly agree on moving forward with a jobs agenda."
February 4, 2010; 12:13 PM ET
Categories: Capitol Briefing
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