After weeks of tense negotiations with his fellow Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) is expected to announce as soon as today a plan to move a series of jobs bills this year with the first piece of legislation focusing heavily on tax breaks.
Reid is taking a rifle-shot approach to the issue instead of trying to push one massive package. Democrats hope that by taking up several job-creation bills they can keep the economy on the front burner and perhaps lure some GOP support along the way.
Although the details are still coming together, the Majority Leader is looking to move the first jobs bill before the Presidents Day recess, which begins on Feb. 13.
Democratic Senate aides said that despite initial divisions within the Conference over how to pivot to the economy, Democrats now appear to be moving toward a united front. “My sense is that things are coalescing pretty well,— a senior Democratic aide said.
“There is some merit to getting some points up on the board as soon as possible,— said another senior Senate Democratic aide. “We’ll start with things that should gain bipartisan support. If we put some pretty pragmatic stuff on the board and [Republicans] say no,’ it’s to their peril.—
Democrats started coming together on Wednesday after Reid delivered a presentation on his plan at the weekly chairmen’s lunch. A number of the Senators in attendance — including Finance Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) and Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (Calif.) — repeatedly questioned Reid on the specifics of his plan. But in the end, Reid won the support of all the chairmen whose panels have jurisdiction over the issue, several sources familiar with the session said.
Democrats said they will base the individual bills off a broader package first floated by Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.). For instance, according to one knowledgeable aide, one of the bills would include some aspects of the Durbin-Dorgan proposal along with an infrastructure spending component authored by Boxer.
Reid’s proposal comes after days of intense negotiations among senior Senators including Durbin, Dorgan, Boxer, Baucus and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (Iowa) over how to move forward on the issue. Those divisions threatened to force another lengthy debate similar to the one Senators engaged in over health care reform last year.
Democrats had been split over what policies to pursue, how many bills to consider and how long to drag out the effort. Some Senators, including Baucus, wanted the committees of jurisdiction to get enough time to vet the package — so the bills were done “right— according to sources — and perhaps pick up some GOP support.
“There [were] divergent views on the upside of going to great lengths to engage the Republicans, given we have so little evidence over the past year that those efforts will bear fruit,— acknowledged one senior Senate Democratic aide.
Durbin and Dorgan have been working for weeks to cobble together a job creation bill, soliciting ideas from the Democratic caucus and vetting those plans with committee chairmen. The hope was that such a process would create enough buy-in from the Conference that the measure would not need to go through committee to attract the votes of all Democrats.
But that plan was hatched before Sen.-elect Scott Brown won the Massachusetts special election, which handed Republicans their 41st vote and the ability to filibuster.
Reid’s latest plan may find favor with rank-and-file Democrats, who are still stinging from Massachusetts. They have been urging leadership to quickly change the focus away from health care reform and back to the economy.
“I am concerned that we’re not moving quickly enough and not big enough,— said Harkin, who advocated a measure that would infuse the economy with as much as $250 billion. “We want to get people to work as soon as the spring thaw comes, and especially this summer. We want to get people to work this summer.—
Boxer said Wednesday that it remains to be seen whether Republicans will sign on to any Democratic measure.
“I think our Republican friends have to decide if they’re for creating jobs and finally getting this country on the right track or they would rather score political points by filibustering. So I think we just might have several packages of a jobs bill,— Boxer said.