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Baucus, Grassley Offer Bipartisan Jobs Plan

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Thursday offered what they described as the basis for a broader bipartisan agreement on a jobs package.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had hoped to finish a jobs bill this week. But bipartisan opposition to rushing the process and the snowstorms of the past week likely meant the debate will begin after the Presidents Day recess. The Senate comes back into session Thursday afternoon, but no votes are expected this week.

In a joint statement, Grassley and Baucus called their legislation “an initial bill” and said they wanted to give lawmakers at least 72 hours to review the measure before floor work begins.

“The draft contains proposals we would expect to be included in an initial bill. We offer it as the first step in the Senate process for consideration of these time-sensitive proposals. We present these proposals today in the interest of transparency and open government. It is especially important that all members and the public have sufficient time – at least 72 hours – to review and comment on this package before the Senate begins voting on the bill because it has not gone through the regular committee process,” Baucus and Grassley said.

Although the bulk of the bill is focused on Finance Committee matters, it does include a series of provisions outside the committee’s jurisdiction, including a short-term extension of the USA PATRIOT Act, flood insurance provisions, Small Business Administration loan provisions and a $1.5 billion package of agriculture disaster relief provisions.

Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) reportedly pushed Baucus and Reid to include the disaster language.

Baucus and Grassley said their deal includes an agreement to work together to maintain the bipartisan nature of the bill, as well as an agreement to work on bipartisan estate tax legislation later this year.

“While not addressed in the proposals in this package, there are two process agreements that are essential to completing action on it. Fulfilling these agreements has been a condition precedent to the bipartisan discussions that have occurred. First we will work to ensure that the scope of the Finance Committee package retains its bipartisan character. Second we are committed to timely consideration of permanent bipartisan estate and gift tax reform,” they said.

Additionally, Grassley and Baucus also appeared to commit to opposing efforts by either party to use procedural steps to turn the bill into a political food fight. That would preclude Baucus from agreeing to any effort by Reid to force through the bill without at least a modicum of floor debate, while prohibiting Grassley from participating in a filibuster of the bill.

“Any efforts that needlessly rush the process through partisan means will undermine our goal of a bipartisan and transparent Senate legislative product. We also agree that, once properly reviewed, the package should be considered in a deliberate, but expeditious manner. Any efforts to needlessly delay Senate completion of consideration of this package through partisan means will undermine our goal of timely action in the current economic climate,” Baucus and Grassley said in the statement.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement after the deal was announced to say that President Barack Obama is “gratified” by the Senators’ bipartisan effort to move a jobs package. “The American people want to see Washington put aside partisan differences and make progress on jobs,” he said.

Gibbs highlighted several provisions in the proposal that reflect Obama’s top priorities for job creation: a jobs and wages tax credit, a tax cut aimed at small-business expansion, infrastructure funds and an extension of unemployment benefits and COBRA. Still, he noted that Obama planned to work with both parties to include other provisions in a final package, including incentives for energy-efficiency investments and increased access to credit for small businesses.

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