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Chamber Battles Intensify

For frustrated House Democrats, the incredible shrinking Senate jobs bill is just the latest in a long line of disappointments from the other chamber.

There’s the Senate’s long, tortured negotiations on health care reform tainted by a series of special deals for states represented by holdout Senators; the lack of action on climate change legislation; and a stack of bills passed by the House that has piled up on the Senate desk with little hope of seeing the light of day.

“The hits just keep on coming,” Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.) said.

“It’s the president’s No. 1 priority and it’s the most important thing for regular folks and it’s anemic,” Hare said Friday of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) $15 billion, scaled-down jobs package.

“You go from high hopes to this type of minuscule piece of legislation that will basically do nothing,” he added.

Hare said the Senate needs to either change its rules to do away with the filibuster or push through more filibuster-proof reconciliation procedures if it can’t do more to help regular people in a recession.

“We have bridges in this country that are about to fall apart and this is the best they can do? A one-year extension of the transportation bill? … The Senate has to decide whether they are going to be held hostage by Neanderthals whose only mission is to do nothing,” Hare said.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said the disappointment with the Senate began with last year’s $787 billion stimulus package, which included far more tax cuts for businesses and far less spending on infrastructure projects than many House Democrats had wanted in order to garner three Senate Republican votes. That frustration only mounted with the Senate’s deal-laden health care bill and lack of action on climate change legislation and a host of other less high-profile bills.

[IMGCAP(1)]”If you want to have a jobs bill, the good political position is not worrying about whether one or two Republicans vote with us, but whether we put people back to work on projects for this country,” Woolsey said.

“I’m constantly flabbergasted that what comes out of the Senate doesn’t have very much to do with what the people of the country want or need,” she said.

The fresh frustration comes just after Reid announced he would push through a smaller, targeted jobs package. House liberals, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), made it clear they wanted more spending on infrastructure and aid to states in particular. The House passed its $150 billion jobs plan late last year.

Pelosi, in a statement Friday, noted that Reid is planning to pass a series of jobs-related measures rather than one bill. But she said she will work to enact “critical pieces” of the House jobs bill, “including investments in our roads, bridges and public transit systems, support for job training initiatives, and funding to keep police and firefighters on the streets and teachers in the classroom.”

“The House is looking forward to Senate action on its jobs package and we want to work with them and get a bill to the president’s desk as quickly as possible,” said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesperson for Pelosi.

Reid’s strategy of pushing smaller, harder-to-oppose jobs bills may, however, be the smarter move politically than the bipartisan jobs proposal of tax-cut extensions and miscellaneous measures cobbled together by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a House leadership aide said.

“He’s breaking it up into pieces and he’s going to demonstrate that Republican Senators are intent on stopping everything, even if it’s job-creating legislation,” the aide said.

“If he put forward a package that had a lot of extraneous measures and what looked like special deals for states, that jobs message would get lost. That’s what happened with health care.”

Reid has taken some serious heat in recent months after he agreed to the “Cornhusker kickback,” a provision in the Senate-passed health care bill that exempted Nebraska from higher Medicaid costs, the aide noted.

Another House Democratic aide said the frustration with the Senate continues to mount, but there isn’t much hope that Senators will suddenly become a model of efficiency.

“To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you have to deal with the Senate you have, not the Senate you wish you have,” the aide said.

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