Brown helps Reid win on jobs bill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) scored a victory Monday when Sen. Scott Brown and four other Republicans helped to advance his $15 billion jobs bill.

The procedural vote was approved 62-30 and allowed Democrats to move toward passage of the legislation considered crucial for President Barack Obama. It also marks the first time this year that Reid won support from the other side on a contentious bill.

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Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine), Kit Bond (Mo.) and George Voinovich (Ohio) joined Brown (Mass.) in voting with the bulk of Democrats to end debate.

Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) was the lone Democrat to vote against the motion to end debate.

Democrats are blocking any amendments to the bill, and final passage is expected as early as Wednesday.

Brown released a statement Monday that said he was disappointed with the way the process was handled, but acknowledged Republicans and Democrats have to work together to get the economy back on track.

“I came to Washington to be an independent voice, to put politics aside, and to do everything in my power to help create jobs for Massachusetts families,” Brown said in the statement. “This Senate jobs bill is not perfect. I wish the tax cuts were deeper and broader, but I voted for it because it contains measures that will help put people back to work.”

Brown, who was the first Republican senator to vote,  alluded to Reid’s decision to scrap an $85 billion proposal that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the panel, introduced on Feb. 11.

The Baucus-Grassley proposal included $31 billion worth of extensions to expiring tax provisions, such as the research and development tax credit, which are a high priority for business groups. Reid introduced the narrower measure after hearing complaints in his conference.

“I was disappointed with the continuation of politics-as-usual in the drafting of this bill, as it was crafted behind closed doors, without transparency and accountability,” Brown said in the statement. “I hope for improvements in that process going forward. All of us, Republicans and Democrats, have to work together to get our economy back on track. I hope my vote today is a strong step toward restoring bipartisanship in Washington.”

Democrats focused their lobbying efforts on Brown, the newly elected Republican from Massachusetts. Brown has been celebrated on the right for claiming the seat held for four decades by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) and ending the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority.

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Reid wooed Brown over the recess, and Americans United for Change, a liberal advocacy group, aired a television ad in Massachusetts pressuring Brown to vote for the bill.

The ad featured Brown’s pledge during an election night victory speech to help create jobs and urged viewers to press Brown to keep his promise.
GOP support for the bill was uncertain until the final moment. Reid predicted there was “more than a 50/50 chance” Brown would vote to advance the bill.

Democrats needed two Republican votes because of the absence of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who was diagnosed with stomach cancer last week.

But labor unions and liberal groups downplayed the significance of the Democratic victory, complaining the legislation is not ambitious enough.
Lawrence Mishel, head of the union-affiliated Economic Policy Institute, called the Senate jobs bill “small, puny.”

The jobs bill includes four components: a tax credit to employers who hire new workers; a provision giving small businesses more leeway to write off the cost of capital investments; the Build America Bonds, which would subsidize the borrowing costs of state and local governments; and a one-year extension of surface transportation authorization funding.

 Democratic lawmakers have tried to address the concerns of allies by promising to pass additional legislation.

“This is not the end of our debate on creating jobs through legislation this year, it’s the beginning of that debate,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

“There will be another package a few weeks from now, and another package [after that],” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, which has an 11 percent unemployment rate.

Labor leaders and liberal advocacy groups have expressed concern that Senate Democrats may not be able to muster the 60 votes necessary to pass additional jobs bills.

Several Democrats expressed dismay the jobs package did not include a long-term extension of unemployment insurance and COBRA healthcare subsidies.

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Merkley and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent Reid a letter last week urging him to make the extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits a priority.

The extension of those benefits will begin to expire on Feb. 28.

“Allowing these vital benefits to expire will only dampen and delay the economic recovery that Congress has worked to generate over the past year,” Merkley and Wyden wrote.

Reid said more jobs-related legislation is coming.

“We know that our serious troubles were not created in one day, and we know they will not be solved overnight,” Reid said on the Senate Floor before the vote. “But we have to begin. We have to take that first step.

“That’s what the bill before us represents: a strong first step in the right direction.”

A senior Senate Democratic aide said Reid would propose a 15-day extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits later in the week.

Reid also said on Monday that he would move quickly to pass a jobs-related tourism bill, which Republicans blocked last year.

Reid moved the narrower bill after liberal Democrats panned Baucus’s proposal in a private meeting held a few hours after it was unveiled.

To satisfy critics in his conference and to dispel the view perpetuated by media reports that the Baucus jobs bill was a gift to Republicans and business lobbyists, Reid stripped it down to four core elements.

Reid said the uproar over the Baucus bill threatened to trample the Democrats’ jobs message.

“The message is so watered down with people wanting other things in this big package,” Reid said at the time.

Walter Alarkon contributed to this article.