Rep. Hoyer: Democrats are set to move jobs legislation by Christmas recess

Democrats hope to pass jobs legislation through the House before lawmakers leave for Christmas on Dec. 18, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has asked key committee chairmen for ideas on job creation, which Hoyer (D-Md.) said could be wrapped into one bill.

“It's my hope we will adjourn by Dec. 18,” Hoyer said in his weekly session with reporters. “I would certainly hope we would move something on jobs before that.”

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Hoyer declined to give a dollar figure for what Democrats are planning, but he said he expects Democrats will at a minimum extend unemployment benefits and COBRA health insurance assistance for the unemployed.

Other options include aid to states to preserve public-sector jobs, tax breaks for creating jobs and spending on public works like highways, he said. Democrats have consulted extensively with a group of economists, but Hoyer said there have been “differences of opinion” on what tactics are most effective.

The action comes after a report from the Labor Department that showed unemployment hitting 10.2 percent in October. The jobless rate is expected to continue to rise in coming months.

The 26-year high in the unemployment rate has spiked concerns among Democrats at the White House and in both chambers of Congress, particularly with midterm elections less than a year away.

Hoyer rejected the characterization of the House effort as a “second stimulus,” saying it will be more narrowly targeted than the $787 billion stimulus.

The massive bill has also become a target for conservatives angry at the surge in federal spending.

The jobs bill could raise those arguments again from Republicans who are opposing public spending and conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats who want to see the spending offset by cuts in programs or by tax hikes.

Hoyer indicated that the spending might not be offset, because increasing taxes would counteract the effort to boost the economy.

“The challenge we have is to stimulate the economy and not depress it at the same time,” Hoyer said.

While Hoyer said the House expected to adjourn by Dec. 18, he previously has suggested it could stay in Washington a bit longer.

Hoyer last week told lawmakers that the House could stay in session on Dec. 21 and 22, if necessary, to work on healthcare reform and other issues.

The Senate is also expected to work on a jobs initiative, though it is unclear when the Senate might take up legislation. That chamber is expected to be busy with healthcare reform for the rest of 2009.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told Democrats at their weekly policy lunch last week that he plans to bring up a jobs measure, but Reid did not say when he would do so.

The administration announced last week that it would hold a jobs summit, and specified on Monday evening that the summit will take place on Dec. 3.

Obama will follow that event with a trip to Allentown, Pa., for a forum on jobs, part of a “Main Street tour” announced by the White House in which Obama will travel to a number of cities and towns over the next few months.