By Jay Heflin - 02/17/10 07:31 PM EST
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) lacks the votes to begin debating
his targeted jobs bill, according to sources monitoring the legislation.
Reid needs 60 votes to open debate on the $15 billion jobs bill. The vote is scheduled for Monday, when lawmakers return from the Presidents Day recess.
A Reid spokesman said the vote is in the hands of Republicans. Democrats have 59 senators in their conference.
“It all depends on what Republicans do,” said Jim Manley, a Reid spokesman.
Reid scaled back an $85 billion jobs bill created by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking Republican Chuck Grassley (Iowa) to focus on a narrower package of tax cuts and infrastructure spending.
But since he announced his smaller jobs bill, it has been under siege by Republicans and Democrats alike. Absent political arm-twisting by Senate leaders to bring their rank-and-file in line, opposition to the bill is expected to be bipartisan, sources said.
Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) called on Reid to “reconsider” the move and urged him to move the Baucus-Grassley bipartisan proposal.
“I hope the majority leader will reconsider,” Lincoln said in prepared remarks. “This bill was carefully crafted to achieve significant bipartisan support and contains several important measures to spur business growth and encourage new hires.”
The centerpiece to Reid’s bill is a $13 billion tax credit employers can claim for hiring employees who have been out of work for more than 60 days. But not all Democratic senators support the initiative.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has raised the concern that a shortage in customer demand could render the tax break useless.
“There’s a question of whether that puts the cart before the horse,” said Nelson. “If I don’t have enough customers for my product, hiring more people is not going to help and tax credits are not going to be to my advantage.”
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, has noted the Congressional Budget Office's estimate that extending unemployment insurance would create more jobs than providing tax credits to employers who hire new workers.
A spokeswoman for the majority leader said her boss would extend unemployment insurance before its expiration by the end of the month. Lobbyists see this as the best vehicle for advancing many of the provisions in the Baucus-Grassley jobs proposal put aside by Reid.
Finance leaders included in their measure $31 billion in extensions of expiring tax provisions, including the research and development tax credit that is widely used by businesses. The Information Technology Industry Council sent a letter to Reid on Wednesday urging passage on this and other expiring provisions.
“At a time when creating and protecting jobs is critically important, extending these already expired tax provisions will help preserve and promote high-tech employment in the U.S. and help level the playing field for U.S. companies competing abroad,” wrote ITIC president and CEO Dean Garfield. “We urge you to include this broadly supported, bipartisan legislation as you consider meaningful pro-growth legislation.”
The extender package also resuscitates biodiesel tax credits whose expiration the National Biodiesel Board says has caused 29,000 jobs to be lost since the provision lapsed on Jan. 1.
“The biodiesel tax credit in the [Baucus-Grassley] jobs bill is the only option being considered that will guarantee that workers can be put back to work the day after it is signed into law,” said Dan Farney, an Illinois Soybean Association farmer, in prepared remarks. “Illinois biodiesel plants are laying off more green-collar employees every day that the tax credit is allowed to go unsigned. This just adds to our nation's and state's unemployment problems.”
Grassley’s state has been negatively affected by the tax credit’s expiration. On Tuesday the Iowa Republican condemned Reid for striking extenders from his jobs bill for political gain.
“The industry is hemorrhaging jobs and we can do something to stop it,” Grassley told reporters. “Yet Sen. Reid decided that it was more important to play political games than actually saving and creating jobs in the private sector.”