House shifts focus to 'jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs'
By Lori Montgomery
Now that they've finished their health-care bill, House leaders are turning their attention to the soaring unemployment rate. But don't look for another economic stimulus package. This time, House leaders said, they want to put together a "jobs bill."
"It's jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs," Rep. John B. Larson (D-Conn.), the No. 4 Democrat in the House, said shortly before convening a meeting of rank-and-file lawmakers late Monday. "Members of this caucus feel ... that a jobless recovery is just simply unacceptable to us. This caucus, every caucus going forward, is going to be focused on putting Americans back to work."
Senior Democratic aides said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who banished the term "stimulus" two weeks ago, has yet to decide what form such a measure would take. But a number of possibilities are under discussion beyond the safety-net measures so far approved by Congress, including an expanded highway reauthorization bill aimed at generating construction jobs and a variety of hiring incentives for small businesses. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday that House leaders have asked key committee chairmen to offer up proposals that would be compiled into a single larger piece of legislation, with a goal of bringing something to a House vote before Dec. 18, when the House hopes to adjourn for the year.
"I would certainly want to see us move something on jobs before that," Hoyer told reporters at his weekly briefing.
Congress has already approved, and President Obama has signed, measures expanding unemployment benefits, health-care benefits for unemployed workers and an extension of the tax credit for first-time home buyers that was contained in the $787 billion stimulus package Obama signed soon after taking office. That package is widely credited by economists with helping to halt the nation's slide into what looked at the time like an economic abyss. But although the economy appears to be growing again, businesses have yet to start hiring, and the unemployment rate hit 10.2 percent in October. That has fueled Republican claims that the original package failed to do much more than increase the nation's bloated budget deficit, leaving Democrats feeling skittish about dipping into the stimulus well again.
Hence, a "jobs bill" -- which, Larson was quick to note, House leaders fully intend to pay for, though they were unwilling to discuss the size of the package or any possible sources of revenue. It was also unclear whether the Senate would be willing to go along with the idea. And Obama administration officials are less than enthusiastic, congressional sources said, preferring to address the issue through the regular budget process early next year. Obama has also scheduled a "jobs summit" at the White House on Dec. 3 and is planning to tour hard-hit regions, starting with Allentown, Pa., over the next few months.
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