Reid: Jobs bill to come with Republican help

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pledged Tuesday to pass a $104 billion jobs bill with the support of Republicans.

That vote is expected after next week’s recess, as the Senate will be closed on Wednesday and no more votes are expected this week because of a second major storm that is expected to blanket Washington.

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Reid late Tuesday noted that senators are having trouble catching flights into the nation's capital.

Fifteen senators missed votes on Tuesday and Democrats would likely not have enough support to pass a jobs bill by Friday, as Reid had initially planned.

Reid said Democrats would hold a special meeting on jobs legislation Thursday at 12:30 p.m. and urged all members of his conference to attend.

“I would doubt there will be any votes this week,” Reid said on the floor. “It appears, what I’ve been able to hear, that people now can’t get planes to get here, and they’re having trouble getting planes out of here.”

Reid said he is making progress negotiating the jobs legislation with GOP leaders.

“We’re going to continue to work with everyone on an agreement to move forward with this matter,” he said.

The legislation includes a payroll tax credit for small businesses that hire new workers, which Reid hopes will win over Republicans.

The provision emerged from a proposal by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) that has also been proposed by the White House.

Reid and Democrats expect to pick up Republican support for the package, which costs about $85 billion the first year and $19 billion the second year, according to a draft of the bill.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday after a bipartisan meeting at the White House that he could back separate measures “to produce immediate bipartisan accomplishments that will grow jobs here at home,” as long as they’re not attached to controversial items.

McConnell also requested that Democrats formally release the bill text so his party could read it.

“My members need to be able to feel like they understand what they are being called upon to support,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Senate leaders are working on an estate tax deal that could make it easier to move a bipartisan jobs bill. A deal being discussed by Reid and McConnell involves moving an estate tax bill through the Senate that would prevent a huge hike in the tax from taking effect in 2011, staffers and lobbyists say.

The agreement would provide needed Republican votes for Reid on the jobs bill and stop the estate tax from returning to a historically high level.

However, McConnell is demanding a time certain on when the estate tax would move before agreeing to any deal on the jobs bill.

The Democrats’ bipartisan push reflects the new political reality in the upper chamber. With Scott Brown (Mass.) sworn in last week as the GOP’s 41st senator, every contentious bill pushed by Democrats will need the backing of at least one member of the minority.

Reid may not be able to count on the full support of his own party for the measure, as liberal Democrats are protesting its heavy emphasis on tax breaks.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said the parts of the bill he’s seen haven’t convinced him to back it.

“Why not think about things like taxing bonuses and send money directly into small-business loans?” Brown said. “Things like that we need to be talking about, not some of the same old, same old.”

The credit for hiring new employees would be applied to workers hired between Feb. 3, 2010, and Jan. 1, 2011, who have been unemployed for more than 60 days and do not replace existing workers.

While some Republicans have offered support for the idea, others have cautioned that the tax credit didn’t work well when the Carter administration tried it in the 1970s and that businesses won’t take advantage of it until they need new workers.

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The draft of the bill calls for a $1,000 retention tax credit for certain newly hired individuals in 2010. To qualify for the credit, businesses must keep workers employed for at least 52 weeks and not reduce their pay below a certain threshold. Businesses will also be able to expense $250,000 in depreciable property for 2010, up from $125,000 for last year.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) wants to include bonus depreciation in the final package, but the provision lacks support in the House where Democrats argue it favors larger companies over smaller ones.

The draft also resuscitates a number of tax breaks that expired last year. It includes corporate provisions aimed at energy conservation and bolstering research and development, and it extends tax breaks for individuals, such as deduction for local and state taxes and relief for homeowners suffering from natural disasters.

The Congressional Budget Office has yet to score the bill’s cost. Sources said some of the provisions, including nearly half of the tax extenders and the extensions in unemployment and COBRA health benefits, aren’t offset.

Some of the measure is paid for by ending “black liquor” biofuel tax credits for paper companies; clamping down on tax shelter abuse; and using interest owed to the federal highway trust fund.