Reid Backs Off Threat to Push for Votes on Jobs Bill

Posted February 9, 2010 at 6:55pm

With another snowstorm descending Tuesday evening on the weather-weary Washington region, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) backed off his push to begin floor debate on an $80 billion jobs bill.

Reid had announced a few hours earlier that the Senate would begin work on the bill that evening — even though bipartisan talks on the measure among Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) had not yet been completed.

But with members of both parties balking at taking up a bill sight unseen — and the weather becoming increasingly problematic — Reid backed away from his plans, which had included a threat to keep the Senate working into the weekend to finish the bill before starting the Presidents Day recess.

The difficult travel conditions contributed to the lack of votes Tuesday on a procedural motion for the nomination of Craig Becker to serve on the National Labor Relations Board. There were only 85 Senators present for the vote; the absentees included five members of the Democratic caucus.

“The weather is a problem, so it’s gong to be hard to get things done, but we’re trying to work our way through this,” he said. “We were supposed to have a caucus tomorrow. We’re snowed out.”

Reid said there was also concern among members of both parties that there had not yet been enough time to review the package. “That’s a main concern that people have,” he said. “This bipartisan deal — the troops haven’t had a chance to look at it.”

On the floor late Tuesday evening, Reid acknowledged that he would not begin floor action on the bill and that given the weather, no votes in the Senate are likely this week. “I would doubt seriously that there will be votes this week. … People can’t get planes here,” Reid said. However, he added that talks on the bill would continue, including a meeting scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Thursday with Senate Democrats to discuss it.

“We must do that. … I want every member of the Caucus to understand the jobs bill,” Reid said.

Whether the extra time will help Reid’s cause is unclear. According to GOP aides, during a meeting in Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office late Tuesday afternoon, Republican members of the Finance Committee expressed lingering reservations with the deal, and Republicans said they were generally uncomfortable with Reid’s timeline.

“I don’t think it’s intellectually honest” to push through a jobs bill before Members have had a chance to consider it, Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said.

“It’s not good public policy,” he added.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said that initial GOP estimates of the bill could put the cost significantly higher than proponents have said, citing an “outline” that he said indicated the bill would cost $104 billion. With only roughly half of that price tag offset, Coburn said “its pretty much a nonstarter to begin with.”

Kate Hunter contributed to this report.