Senate leaders set to move jobs bill as economic turbulence continues

Reid (D-Nev.) and other Democratic leaders unveiled their jobs agenda Thursday, a plan they say will begin creating work for the nearly 7 million people who have lost employment since the start of the recession.

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Reid said he would bring the first of several jobs bills to the Senate floor on Feb. 8 and hopes to pass it through the chamber by Feb. 12, when lawmakers are scheduled to start the Presidents Day recess.

But Reid and other leaders declined to discuss key details, such as how much the package would cost, how many jobs it would create and how it would be paid for. Reid had yet to secure a Republican co-sponsor for the package.

Senators are moving the first jobs package as uncertainy looms over the economy. On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose by 8,000 to 480,000 last week. The unexpected increase sent the stock market tumbling nearly 200 points in early trading and was announced a day ahead of a highly anticipated monthly jobs report for January.

With unemployment at 10 percent, the White House and congressional Democrats have made the economy and jobs their top priority ahead of the 2010 midterms.

“Our message is this one: for Senate Democrats, creating jobs is job number one,” Reid told reporters. “There will be a vote on a jobs bill on Monday.”

Some Democrats, such as Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Tom Harkin (Iowa), have called for the package to be larger than $80 billion. Other lawmakers have proposed moving a smaller package.

Reid pushed back against a suggestion that progress has stalled because of internal disputes.
 
“We’ve just started,” Reid said, dismissing suggestions that conference is divided.

Democrats are also wrestling over whether to use unspent funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to offset the legislation’s cost. Using TARP funds, however, would draw strong Republican opposition. 

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said that as of Thursday morning no Republican had signed on as a supporter.
 
“You need two to tango and you need Republicans for bipartisanship,” said Durbin. “We don’t have bipartisanship at this moment, I hope we’ll have it in a matter of minutes, hours, days.”
 
To vote Monday to proceed to the jobs bill, Reid would have to file a motion to cut off a Republican filibuster on Friday or Saturday. That gives Democrats a day or two to find a GOP partner.
 
Senator-Elect Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is scheduled to take the oath of office at 5:00 pm Thursday, giving Republicans control of 41 seats and power to block Democratic legislation.
 
Reid said he hoped to strike a bipartisan deal by the end of the week.
 
Democrats have compiled a list of the proposals they hope to include in jobs legislation.
 
Many of the proposals are geared toward small businesses, which created 96 percent of new jobs over the past decade, according to Democrats.
 
They include a tax credit for employers who hire new workers in 2010, more generous tax depreciation rules for small businesses and changes to the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) lending programs to give small businesses better access to credit.
 
Democrats are also looking to promote small-business exports through the SBA, Department of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative and establish a lending pool for small businesses made up of community banks and local financial institutions.
 
Infrastructure spending will make up another chunk of the jobs agenda. Democrats have proposed extending the Surface Transportation Act to spend billions on roads around the nation, a proposal that Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) supports. Grants to upgrade school buildings and the nation’s drinking and wastewater infrastructure are also on the table.
 
Investments to promote energy efficiency will include the so-called “cash-for-caulkers program,” which would provide rebates to consumers who make renovations to reduce their energy bills. Affordable housing developments and manufacturing plans would also win grant money for efficiency renovation.
 
Democrats are also looking to funnel billions to state and local governments facing budget shortfalls. The aide would allow states to retain and hire firefighters, police officers and teachers, and fund summer youth jobs programs.