Time running out for House Dems to move major jobs measure in ’09

A looming question for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is whether she will bypass the many committees — Ways and Means, Transportation and Energy and Commerce, to name a few — and subcommittees that might want to take a stab at marking up the legislation.

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Pelosi faced grumbling from her ranks earlier in the year for quickly moving the $787 billion stimulus and has since said she would operate under regular order.

A leadership aide said that Democrats are still undecided on how and when they’ll move on a jobs bill.

President Barack Obama will lay out his prescriptions for job growth during a Tuesday afternoon speech at the Brookings Institution, and House Democratic aides said members will be anxious to hear what the president says about both content and timing.

Democrats are likely to act by Dec. 31 to extend unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits, as well as to prevent the expiration of a number of business tax credits and the law that allows gas tax revenues to be spent on highway construction projects.

But beyond that, Democrats lack a consensus on what kind of action they should take prior to going home for the December holidays.

Liberals have been pushing for substantial action on the jobs front now — even if it amounts to a “down payment” on a larger, longer-term extension of the highway bill. But some centrist Democrats don’t want to be rushed into a forced vote as the legislative clock expires.

“We have no idea what the Senate is capable of taking on,” a senior Democratic aide said. “A lot of members don’t want to take another vote on something that may or may not go anywhere in the Senate.”

Pelosi said on Dec. 3 that Democrats are still working toward passing a major infrastructure spending bill by year’s end in order to foster an employment surge sooner rather than later.

“It would be my hope that we could get something done by the end of this year,” Pelosi said. “It all depends on the legislative process, but we are working to that end ... If we can get something passed this year, it will be so that we can be ready for the construction season starting in the spring.”

But with no more than 10 working days left before adjournment — in which the House will have to complete its work on a financial regulatory reform bill, pass a package of tax extenders, provide a bare-bones extension of unemployment assistance measures and likely pass either a continuing budget resolution or omnibus spending bill — other Democratic leaders were skeptical that anything beyond the immediately necessary could get done this year.

“We’re going to get out on the 18th,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Thursday. “I think we will take some action on jobs, but I don’t know that we’ll have a complete jobs package [by the end of December] ... I don’t expect to deal with all the problems I’ve discussed, either on healthcare or on jobs, in the next eight days.”

Democrats may also need that time to work out lingering disagreements within their ranks over how to pay for hundreds of billions of dollars in investments in road and bridge projects and possibly for first responders and teachers.

Pelosi on Thursday strongly endorsed using money from the $700 billion financial bailout to finance a significant portion of Democrats’ job proposals going forward. But conservative Blue Dog Democrats, as well as a group of freshman Democrats, all of whom are facing difficult reelection prospects, want any accessible funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the formal name for the bailout, to go toward deficit reduction.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who is in charge of limiting Democratic losses during next year’s midterm elections, told The Hill on Friday that congressional support for a TARP-financed jobs bill will be contingent on Obama’s support for the approach.

“If he endorses that approach, I think we can definitely get it out,” Van Hollen said.

CNN on Monday reported that the White House has gotten behind using as much as $200 billion in TARP funds for job creation, and that Obama on Tuesday will advocate using those funds on infrastructure projects, unemployment insurance, small-business assistance and projects to weatherize homes.

Sam Youngman contributed to this article.