Senate Democrats take cautious tack in giving predictions on jobs measure

Senate Democrats are exercising caution about how many jobs will be saved or created by the $15 billion jobs bill they approved on Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThis obscure Senate rule could let VP Mike Pence fully repeal ObamaCare once and for all Sharron Angle to challenge GOP rep in Nevada Fox's Watters asks Trump whom he would fire: Baldwin, Schumer or Zucker MORE (D-Nev.) has said one part of the bill would produce about 240,000 jobs alone, and one of his staff members said the total package would create or save 1.3 million jobs.

But other Democrats said they aren’t sure how many jobs would be saved or created by the bill. “I don’t know the number,” said Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinThe Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch rewrites playbook for confirmation hearings Gorsuch: I'm 'sorry' for ruling against autistic student MORE (Ill.), the second-ranking Senate Democrat.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) cautioned leaders not to stick any estimates on the package, saying the depth of the 2008-2009 recession made it too difficult to offer an estimate.

“I argued, on the question of the level of unemployment, don’t talk about it because all the models are based on past recoveries,” Conrad said on Wednesday. “Previous recoveries didn’t have this level of damage done to the financial sector. So all the models, you can just throw them out the window.”

Democrats have been stung by criticism over job estimates related to last year’s $787 billion economic stimulus package, which only three Senate Republicans supported. (One, Sen. Arlen Specter, Pa., later switched parties.)

White House and congressional leaders predicted the package would save or create 3.5 million jobs, but the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) this week estimated that between 800,000 and 2.4 million jobs had been produced or rescued.

January totals from President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaThe Memo: Winners and losers from the battle over health care Ex-Trump aide: Tillerson is ‘part of the swamp’ Rand Paul takes victory lap on GOP health bill MORE’s Council of Economic Advisers say the bill has saved or created between 1.7 million and 2 million jobs.

This has led to accusations from Republicans that the stimulus has been a failure and has fallen well short of expectations. The Government Accountability Office in November identified significant problems in making estimates.

Conrad saw the risk with setting expectations too high on the $787 billion stimulus and warned at the time that it would invite criticism of the package’s effectiveness.

“I argued strenuously in the recovery package, ‘Do not make an assertion about levels of unemployment or the number of jobs created, because you will always wind up in that kind of argument — that quibble about, “Was it 2 million or 1.8 million [jobs created]?” ’ ” he said.

Democrats will have more political cover with the bill approved on Wednesday. It was passed on a 70-28 vote, as 13 Republicans joined 55 Democrats and two Independents to support the bill.

Republicans voting yes included Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderOvernight Regulation: Trump's Labor nominee hints at updating overtime rule Trump's Labor pick signals support for overtime pay hike Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing MORE (Tenn.), the GOP conference chairman, as well as new Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.).

GOP Sens. Richard BurrRichard BurrDevin Nunes has jeopardized the oversight role of Congress Schumer: Trump must apologize for wiretapping claim Senate panel asks Trump ally Roger Stone to preserve Russia-related records MORE (N.C.), Kit Bond (Mo.), Thad CochranThad CochranOvernight Defense: FBI chief confirms Trump campaign, Russia probe | Senators push for Afghan visas | Problems persist at veterans' suicide hotline Senators ask to include visas for Afghans in spending bill Shutdown politics return to the Senate MORE (Miss.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsGOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Five takeaways from Labor pick’s confirmation hearing ObamaCare repeal faces last obstacle before House vote MORE (Maine), Orrin HatchOrrin HatchOvernight Finance: US preps cases linking North Korea to Fed heist | GOP chair says Dodd-Frank a 2017 priority | Chamber pushes lawmakers on Trump's trade pick | Labor nominee faces Senate US Chamber urges quick vote on USTR nominee Lighthizer Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing MORE (Utah), James InhofeJames InhofeRepeal of Obama drilling rule stalls in the Senate GOP senator: EPA 'brainwashing our kids' A guide to the committees: Senate MORE (Okla.), George LeMieux (Fla.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiElle honors 10 at annual 'Women in Washington' event Five takeaways from Labor pick’s confirmation hearing ObamaCare repeal faces last obstacle before House vote MORE (Alaska), Olympia Snowe (Maine), George Voinovich (Ohio) and Roger WickerRoger WickerAs US healthcare changes, preventative screenings can't stop A guide to the committees: Senate Pruitt confirmation sets stage for Trump EPA assault MORE (Miss.) also voted yes.

Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) was the only Democrat to oppose it.

Much of the bill’s job-creating prowess lies in the $13 billion payroll tax credit employers claim for hiring new workers who have been out of work for more than 60 days.

The provision is expected to prod companies to hire, but a shortage in customer demand has business leaders and economists questioning how effective it will be. They argue increases in demands for goods and services, not a tax credit, are the key to boosting employment.

CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf echoed a similar sentiment Wednesday in testimony before the Joint Economic Committee.

Elmendorf predicted “a gradual recovery in employment” largely because the current recession is worse than its predecessors, as Conrad argued. The severity of the downturn will stifle increases in demand for goods and services for quite some time, which negatively affects hiring.

“The first and most important factor underlying that assessment is that output is expected to grow fairly slowly,” Elmendorf said in prepared remarks.

“Following the two previous most severe recessions in the postwar period — the 1973–1975 and 1981–1982 recessions — employment recovered much more rapidly than CBO and others currently expect.”

Advocates for the tax credit say it will spur hiring by companies already flirting with adding new workers, but admitted the provision is not a cure-all.

“This package is not a panacea,” said Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerWarren: 'Today is a great day... but I'm not doing a touchdown dance' Schumer calls Trump admin 'incompetent' after healthcare bill pulled Trump blames Democrats for ObamaCare defeat MORE (D-N.Y.), who crafted the payroll tax credit and strongly advocated for passage of the bill. “It’s not going to solve everything.”