Snow Confuses Congress’ Plans

Leaders Rethinking Schedule

Posted February 8, 2010 at 5:41pm

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday remained intent on forcing lawmakers to return to the Capitol on Tuesday in the hope of quickly pushing through the first in a series of job-creation bills, brushing aside concerns that a second severe snowstorm was bearing down on Washington, D.C.

Although Reid — who while in D.C. lives in the tony Ritz-Carlton Hotel on 22nd Street — has a security detail to chauffeur him to and from the Hill, other Members and Senate support staff do not. The weekend’s blizzard crippled the region’s public transportation system, and many roads were still impassable Monday evening. A second massive snowstorm yielding double-digit accumulations is expected to begin this afternoon.

Still, as of press time Monday evening, Reid’s staff said the Majority Leader was sticking to his guns and planned to reconvene the Senate at 5 p.m. Tuesday to hold votes on procedural motions on the nominations of Joseph Greenaway to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board.

Reid originally scheduled those votes for Monday evening, but he pushed back the timetable to account for the difficult travel conditions.

But Reid’s primary goal in bringing lawmakers back to Washington appears to be his hope that he can clear the first of several jobs bills before Congress departs for the Presidents Day recess on Friday.

Doing so, however, appeared increasingly unlikely, aides said. “We still hope to have this done this week,” a Reid aide said, although the aide did acknowledge that the weather slowed progress on the jobs bill. Reid is hoping to secure bipartisan support for the first measure.

“It’s harder to do these things over the phone rather than in person,” the aide acknowledged.

Jobs bill talks are “frozen because of the snowstorm,” a GOP aide quipped, noting that while some progress has been made, a deal is far from assured.

According to GOP and Democratic aides, the bill is likely to include a set of job-creation tax incentives targeted at small businesses, Build America Bond provisions, an extension of unemployment insurance and the COBRA health care program, and a set of tax-break extenders.

Staff-level discussions on a set of “pay fors” — revenue raisers designed to offset the costs of the bill — have largely been concluded. But other pieces of the puzzle are still in flux. For instance, negotiations continue over whether to include provisions reauthorizing portions of the USA PATRIOT Act, as well as whether the bill should include Medicare language. Additionally, aides were discussing the possibility of using a floor amendment to add an extension to federal highway spending.

One Republican aide familiar with the talks noted that these provisions have been the biggest hurdles to completing a deal. “It’s the extraneous stuff that’s been slowing things down,” the aide said.

But even if an agreement can be reached — and the Senate can find some way to pass a bill despite Washington’s weather woes — the measure’s future remains uncertain given continued opposition from House liberals.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) knocked the $150 billion jobs bill that House Democratic leaders narrowly pushed through in December, saying that it was thrown together too quickly and ended up looking “a lot more like a stimulus bill than it does a jobs creation bill.”

DeFazio said he didn’t know the fate of that package since Members haven’t really talked about it since it passed.

“We haven’t really gotten back to talking about job creation in the Caucus yet. They say we’re committed to job creation, but there haven’t been any specific discussions,” he said.

DeFazio said House Democratic leaders now appear to be looking to the Senate to advance a jobs bill focused on taxes. He warned that that approach is “how we got in trouble with health care by letting [Senate Finance Chairman] Max Baucus [D-Mont.]control the agenda.”

The Oregon Democrat also bashed a centerpiece of the jobs proposal being pushed by President Barack Obama: $33 billion in small-business tax credits.

Meanwhile, the weather had also thrown the House’s schedule for this week into uncertainty. Late Tuesday, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced that there would be no votes on Tuesday because of “inclement weather” and that Members would be updated Tuesday afternoon for the rest of the week’s schedule. With the second snowstorm looming, some Members are wary of being able to get into town and, worse yet, being able to get home again. The biggest item on the House agenda is an antitrust bill on health insurers, but that’s not going anywhere anytime soon in the Senate.

Steven T. Dennis and Jennifer Bendery contributed to this report.