By Mike Soraghan - 11/17/09 01:41 AM EST
House Democratic leaders, worried they’ve appeared unresponsive to rising unemployment because they were absorbed by healthcare, are aiming for a legislation solution by Christmas.
That focus follows a similar shift in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told colleagues he also plans to bring up a jobs measure, The Hill reported first last week.
And it could end with an economic package on the floor sometime in December, Democratic sources said.
But some leadership aides cautioned that leaders are still debating whether to do one large package or a series of smaller bills.
And they say the Obama administration has yet to get on board.
One way or another, aides say, House Democrats’ message from now to Christmas will be about jobs.
“We continue to look for opportunities to build on the recovery package and other actions Congress has taken to bolster the economy,” said Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Leaders want members to have something to take home with them to show that they’re working on the economy. But they have to balance that against growing discomfort among voters about skyrocketing government spending.
The main idea for job creation is finding some sort of compromise on a highway-construction bill that Democrats have been haggling over for months. House Democrats have fought resistance in the Senate and at the White House for a massive, long-term expansion of the highway authorization bill.
They haven’t been able to agree on how to raise the money for a $500 billion bill. One idea would be to do a shorter-term bill without a revenue stream, a Democratic aide said, adding to the deficit.
Lawmakers are also discussing more small-business tax breaks intended to create new jobs. But other pieces being considered — extending unemployment benefits again, paying the health benefits of unemployed workers, providing aid to state Medicaid programs and extending popular tax breaks — might help the economy, but are less likely to chip away at the unemployment rate.
What everyone agrees on, though, is that it won’t be called “stimulus.”
Democrats aggressively tried to change the name of their $787 billion spending and tax cut package from stimulus to “recovery” in the middle of the debate earlier this year. No House Republicans voted for the stimulus, and the GOP has said the rising unemployment rate shows that the legislation isn’t working.
Pelosi had rejected the idea of legislation dubbed “stimulus” earlier this fall. But then she took time out from the healthcare debate in late October to meet with a band of economists for ideas on ways to spur the economy. Obama signed into law last week many of the ideas discussed during that forum: the homebuyer tax credit, unemployment benefits and a tax “carryback” for businesses.
Since that meeting, House leaders and many rank-and-file members were consumed with passage of the healthcare bill. Now that the healthcare debate has moved to the Senate, the House has much less to do and can return to economic issues.
The Senate may not be far behind.
Last week Reid told colleagues they will take up a new job-creation bill in the wake of the 10.2 percent unemployment rate.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told The Hill that Reid didn’t specify what would be in the bill, but said that it was going to be “one of the priorities” for the Senate.
And the AFL-CIO has been pressing for aid for state and local governments and more spending on roads and public works.
Many of those were taken out of the stimulus bill earlier this year in order to win Senate passage.
Unemployment is at a 25-year high and is expected to remain in double digits into next year. Adding to that, many Democrats were unnerved by losing gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, two states President Barack Obama carried in 2008.
Along with difficult votes on climate change and healthcare legislation, that has many centrists worried about 2010’s midterm elections.
Walter Alarkon and Jared Allen contributed to this article.