House eyes jobs bill, $300B debt hike

The House also plans separate votes this week on a short-term, $300 billion debt limit increase and the Defense appropriations bill, the last of 12 annual spending bills yet to be cleared by Congress. Democrats had planned on moving a much larger increase of the debt limit, but put aside those plans after objections from centrists.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the jobs bill would include money for infrastructure projects and state and local governments struggling to avoid layoffs of teachers and other public workers.

Hoyer cautioned that the $75 billion price tag for the jobs bill isn’t finalized, and added it would include more money for infrastructure than fiscal aid. He said the bill would hit the floor within the next few days.

The jobs bill will be fully paid for with funds from the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, Hoyer said. That reflects the new focus of House Democrats as they head into an election year.

“My expectation is that we will focus on jobs and fiscal responsibility, pursuing a way back from the essential actions that we took in the last year of the Bush administration and in the first months of the Obama administration to stabilize an economy that was the worst in 75 years,” Hoyer told reporters Tuesday during his weekly pen-and-pad briefing.

It’s unclear whether the Senate will act on the bill. Democratic senators crafting their own job-creation bill said that it won’t be taken up until after their work on the healthcare bill is concluded.

With a glut of work remaining before the end of the session, Hoyer left the door open to House sessions this weekend and on Monday and Tuesday of next week, when members planned to be on holiday recess.

“I foresee them being possible days we may have to come back or be here,” he said.

House leaders last week were considering a debt ceiling increase as large as $1.9 trillion, which would have allowed lawmakers to avoid another debt limit vote before the November midterm election.

Instead, Hoyer said the debt limit increase to be voted on this week will last for only two months. The debt ceiling must be raised because the federal debt is nearing its $12.1 trillion limit. If the limit is breached, the government would default.

The debt ceiling increase will not be attached to the Defense bill, Hoyer said. House Republicans vowed to oppose any debt limit increase that was tucked into the Defense spending bill. A group of centrist Democratic senators, led by Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.), had said they would vote against raising the debt limit unless Senate leaders also allowed a floor vote on a special fiscal commission aimed at reining in deficits. But Bayh has signaled that he's open to a smaller debt limit increase while negotiations on the commission continue.

The $636 billion appropriations bill to fund the Department of Defense in 2010 will also be the vehicle to pass a number of extensions for expiring statutes.

The bill will carry two-month extensions of the Patriot Act, unemployment benefits, COBRA healthcare aid for the jobless, the surface transportation authorization bill, Small Business Association loan insurance, flood insurance and current levels of Medicare physician payments, Hoyer said.

The legislation will also include $400 million for administrative costs for the federal food stamp program, an extension of the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) to help states plan their upcoming budgets and a 90-day extension of legislation allowing satellite television providers to carry local broadcast stations.

The House this week will also vote on a short-term continuing resolution that would allow government agencies to operate into next week. The current continuing resolution ends Friday.

The new continuing resolution is needed because the Senate, scheduled to work on the healthcare bill into the weekend, might not get to the Defense bill until after Friday.