Jobs agenda stalled at both ends of the Capitol
By Ben Pershing
Two days after the Senate passed a jobs bill with bipartisan fanfare, Democrats' efforts to boost the economy are now stalled at both ends of the Capitol.
In the House, an array of Democrats ranging from liberal Congressional Black Caucus members to conservative Blue Dogs are balking at the Senate's $15 billion jobs measure, prompting party leaders to postpone a vote until next week. In the Senate, a measure to extend unemployment insurance, COBRA health benefits and a handful of other expiring programs for one month is being blocked by one lawmaker -- Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.).
While the House can simply resume its discussions of the jobs bill next week, the Senate blockade is of more pressing concern to Democratic leaders, since the programs in question -- which also include a satellite television bill and federal flood insurance -- all expire Sunday.
Bunning is demanding that Democrats add a provision to the bill that would pay for its various extensions by tapping unspent bailout funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Democrats have tried without success to negotiate a solution with the Kentuckian, who is retiring at the end of this Congress.
Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said on the chamber floor Friday morning that leaders gave Bunning a chance to offer an amendment containing the TARP language. But "the senator from Kentucky rejected that," Durbin said. "He says he did not want to bring this matter to the floor because he might lose."
Bunning says he has to make a stand to prevent Democrats from recklessly adding to the federal debt, making it unclear how and when the Senate will resolve the dispute.
"I will be here as long as you are here and as long as all of those other Senators are here," Bunning said on the floor Thursday. "I am going to object every time because you will not pay for this and you propose never to pay for it. ... We have a debt of $14-plus trillion. ... We cannot sustain it."
In the House, the Senate-passed jobs measure has attracted the opposition of several Democratic groups.
"We implore leadership to stop calling this 'the jobs bill,'" CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said earlier this week, adding that "the legislation approved by the U.S. Senate ... is disappointing to say the least."
The complaint of the CBC and other party liberals is that the Senate bill is too small and too focused on tax cuts, giving companies a payroll tax break for hiring new employees. The CBC wants the bill to include funding for job training and public jobs programs, particularly in areas with the highest rates of unemployment.
Separately, the Blue Dogs are concerned that the jobs bill violates the "pay as you go" budget rules recently signed into law by President Obama, since the measure's tax cuts and new spending are not all offset. And a third coterie of Democrats is upset about the highway bill reauthorization language in the bill, complaining that the Senate's language would steer a disproportionate amount of money to a handful of states -- particularly California, Illinois, Louisiana and Washington -- at the expense of others.
While some House Republicans would likely support the jobs bill on final passage -- 13 Senate Republicans backed it -- the combined objections of those Democrats means that party leaders might have trouble getting 218 votes for the rule governing debate for the bill. So rather than pass the bill Thursday as planned, Democrats punted it until next week.
February 26, 2010; 9:51 AM ET
Categories: Capitol Briefing , Economy
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