Pelosi: Jobs bill by State of the Union

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will vote on a jobs bill Wednesday, and she believes President Barack Obama could sign it before his State of the Union address.

Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House leaders rolled out the package on Tuesday. It includes nearly $75 billion for public works and Medicaid assistance for states, and will be paid for with funds left over from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout.

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“The bill creates jobs, it meets the needs of those who are unemployed and puts us on a path to prosperity,” Pelosi said.

The bill also includes tax breaks designed to help small businesses; a six-month, $40 billion extension of unemployment benefits and assistance with “COBRA” healthcare payments; and additional food-stamp aid.

The House also plans separate votes Wednesday on the remaining end-of-year priorities — a short-term, $300 billion debt limit increase; the defense appropriations bill, the last of 12 annual spending bills yet to be cleared by Congress; and a continuing resolution to keep the military going into next week without final passage of the Pentagon bill.

Democrats had planned on moving a much larger increase of the debt limit, but put aside those plans after objections from centrists.

The legislation reflects the new focus of House Democrats as they head into an election year.

“My expectation is that we will focus on jobs and fiscal responsibility, pursuing a way back from the essential actions that we took in the last year of the Bush administration and in the first months of the Obama administration to stabilize an economy that was the worst in 75 years,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

At the rollout, Democrats stressed that the economy has improved under President Barack Obama, with a significant slowdown in the rate at which jobs are being lost. Republicans have said Obama’s stimulus bill failed because unemployment is still hovering at 10 percent. Democrats also brushed off Republican criticism about using money from the bailout, officially known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

“We make no apology whatsoever for trying to give the same amount of attention to Main Street needs as was given earlier to Wall Street needs,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.).

Republicans said the plan would increase the national debt without doing much to create jobs.

“It sounds like more ineffective government spending, with the money borrowed from China and the Middle East and the bill passed on to our kids and grandkids,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

It’s unclear whether the Senate will act on the bill. Democratic senators crafting their own job-creation bill said that it won’t be taken up until after their work on the healthcare bill is concluded.

With a glut of work remaining before the end of the session, Hoyer left the door open to House sessions this weekend and on Monday and Tuesday of next week, when members planned to be on holiday recess.

“I foresee them being possible days we may have to come back or be here,” he said.

House leaders last week were considering a debt ceiling increase as large as $1.9 trillion, which would have allowed lawmakers to avoid another debt-limit vote before the November midterm election.

Instead, Hoyer said the debt-limit increase to be voted on this week will last for only two months. The debt ceiling must be raised because the federal debt is nearing its $12.1 trillion limit. If the limit is breached, the government would default.

The debt-ceiling increase will not be attached to the defense bill, Hoyer said.

House Republicans vowed to oppose any debt-limit increase that was tucked into the defense spending bill. A group of centrist Democratic senators, led by Evan Bayh (Ind.), had said they would vote against raising the debt limit unless Senate leaders also allowed a floor vote on a special fiscal commission aimed at reining in deficits. But Bayh has signaled he’s open to a smaller debt-limit increase while negotiations on the commission continue.

The $636 billion appropriations bill to fund the Department of Defense in 2010 will also be the vehicle to pass a number of extensions for expiring statutes.

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The bill will carry two-month extensions of the Patriot Act, unemployment benefits, a separate, shorter extension of COBRA healthcare aid for the jobless, the surface transportation authorization bill, Small Business Association loan insurance, flood insurance and current levels of Medicare physician payments, Hoyer said.

The legislation will also include $400 million for administrative costs for the federal food stamp program, an extension of the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) to help states plan their upcoming budgets and a 90-day extension of legislation allowing satellite television providers to carry local broadcast stations.

The new continuing resolution is needed because the Senate, scheduled to work on the healthcare bill into the weekend, might not get to the defense bill until after Friday.