House Democratic leaders are struggling to get their members to back the Senate-passed jobs bill, leadership aides said Friday.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) praised the $15 billion measure at a Friday news conference. But behind the scenes, House leaders were working to assuage Democratic members on the left and right, whose very objections could doom the bill before it is placed on the schedule.
Democratic leaders began to hint Friday that the bill would not be ready for the floor next week as originally anticipated, and leadership aides were racing to organize a caucus meeting for as early as next week to discuss the issue.
One leadership aide acknowledged the Senate’s quick action on the bill took the House by complete surprise. That, along with the bipartisan healthcare summit, left House leaders little time to rally their caucus around the Senate bill.
Objections raised Thursday by the Congressional Black Caucus to the scope of the bill were in danger of being matched by the Progressive Caucus, another important liberal voting bloc.
“I think for many of the progressives, and there’s more than just a few, [the Senate bill is] a nonstarter,” said Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). “The idea that we need to do this, a bare-bones tax break and then come back and do something later, is not some thing we want to hold our breath for.”
Conservative Blue Dog Democrats were rallying in opposition to the bill based on its having bypassed the new “pay as you go” law, which requires new spending to be offset with tax increases or spending cuts. Blue Dogs fought to get pay-go enacted, which is only to be waived for emergency measures and certain other items.
“It doesn’t send a good message, and it’s not good policy, for us to violate the House pay-go rule two weeks after the president signs a pay-go law,” said Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), and influential member of the coalition.
“I’m not comfortable doing it,” Boyd said. “And there’s a lot of other people who aren’t comfortable with it, either.”
Asked if the next step is still to have the House try to pass the Senate bill, Boyd quickly snapped, “The next step is to get it paid for.”
“If it’s only a few billion bucks, let’s find the offsets and send it back to the Senate,” he said.
An impasse over the first piece of the Democrats' jobs agenda would not only amount to a serious loss of momentum; it could further damage relations between the House and the Senate at a critical time when they are trying to pass healthcare reform, another leadership aide said.
"We've been complaining about the Senate not doing anything for how long now? And they finally pass a bill, a bipartisan bill, and we can't pass it over here?" the aide said. "Yeah, that would be a problem."