By Jay Heflin and Walter Alarkon - 02/18/10 09:36 PM EST
Democrats have yet to secure any Republican support for a $15 billion jobs bill, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday.
“I don’t think anyone has committed to voting for the package, but there are a number of people who say they are interested in looking at it,” said Schumer, the third-ranking member of Senate Democratic leadership.
“Do we expect every Democrat to vote for this bill?” he posed. “I don’t think a whip count has been done, but I know it has very broad support.”
Democrats no longer have a filibuster-proof majority in the chamber. Absent support from at least one Republican, along with a unified Democratic Conference, the measure will go nowhere.
The difficulty in securing the necessary 60 votes comes after Reid scaled back an $85 billion jobs bill by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking Republican Chuck Grassley (Iowa) to focus on a narrower package of tax cuts and infrastructure spending. The Baucus-Grassley proposal had bipartisan support and was endorsed by the White House.
The centerpiece to Reid’s bill is a $13 billion tax credit, which employers can claim for hiring employees who have been out of work for more than 60 days. Schumer and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) drafted the tax credit. But while Hatch’s staff said he supports that provision, he won’t commit to Reid’s bill.
“Senator Hatch continues to support this proposal, but has grave concerns with Senator Reid's decision to go with partisan politics over a genuine bipartisan compromise,” said Antonia Ferrier, a Hatch spokesperson.
A shortage in customer demand has business leaders and economists also questioning the payroll tax credit.
Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com and a key economic adviser to Democrats, believes the credit will be create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
“I think Senator Schumer’s plan has very good potential for generating a couple of 300,000 jobs,” said Zandi.
Zandi joined Schumer and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) at a news conference on the jobs bill. Schumer noted Republicans supported Reid’s provisions prior to the majority leader including them in his bill.
“It contains ideas from both sides of the aisle,” he said. “Each of the four components of the Hire Act, when taken individually, has bipartisan support."
In addition to payroll tax credit, Reid’s bill contains a one-year extension of the highway trust fund, bonds to help states better afford construction projects, greater expensing for small businesses and a tax break for retaining workers beyond 52 weeks.
Reed deemed the majority leader’s bill the “first step to hiring” and also urged an extension to unemployment benefits that is set to expire Feb. 28. The extension was in the Baucus-Grassley bill, but is not in Reid’s narrower legislation.
Senate Democrats are eyeing legislation extending unemployment benefits and aid to state and local governments after they take up a $15 billion jobs bill next week, a Reid spokesperson said.
Democrats will seek to extend the program by providing federal unemployment insurance to jobless workers for up to 53 weeks, said Reed. If the program expires, an unemployed person would be eligible for only 34 weeks of federal benefits.
Reed wants to extend that program and increased federal payments for unemployed Americans getting COBRA healthcare benefits for the rest of 2010.
The $15 billion jobs bill "can't be the final step," Reed said in a conference call with reporters. "There's no single piece of legislation that is going to deal with all the issues."
Aid to the unemployed does more to increase jobs than other job creation efforts, such as income and business tax breaks, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office study touted by Reed and other liberal Democrats.
Reed and Schumer also pushed for extensions of fiscal aid that state and local governments have used to stave off public employee layoffs.
Schumer said Democrats are looking for proposals that have the most "bang for the buck" in bringing down the 9.7 percent jobless rate in order to avoid overspending this year, when the deficit is expected to hit a record $1.6 trillion.
"I think we have to be careful and thread the needle," Schumer said. "We need job creation... at same time we're worried about deficits and too much spending."
Asked whether the Senate could pass jobs measures totaling $270 billion, Schumer said "part of that would depend on how the economy looks."
The House passed a $154 billion jobs bill that includes three-month extensions of unemployment benefits, state and local government fiscal aid and new infrastructure spending.
Senate Democrats have said they're more inclined to have a "jobs agenda" that consists of several smaller bills instead of one large measure.