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Democrats Head Into First Recess With Little to Crow About

House and Senate Democrats came back to Washington, D.C., this year battered and bruised, and as they leave town for their first recess of 2010, it’s clear they are still looking for a legislative formula that will set them on a firmer electoral path this November.

After four weeks of work and dipping poll ratings, Democrats have few accomplishments to tout over the weeklong Presidents Day break. After seeing their health care efforts stall due to Sen. Scott Brown’s (R-Mass.) surprise win in the Massachusetts special election last month, Senate Democratic leaders have settled on a jobs agenda for the year.

Having passed their own $154 billion jobs bill last year, House leaders are telling their Members to highlight the effects of the $787 billion economic stimulus package they passed a year ago.

With only a handful of confirmations and a controversial increase in the debt limit to show for the past four weeks of work, Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said this week the majority would have had more in the accomplishment column if not for the crippling snowstorms that hit the nation’s capital over the past seven days.

“We’ve been putting together a good jobs bill, and we would have had it done this week except for the … 10 Members [who] aren’t here because of the snow,” Schumer said. “And I think you’re going to see a really good, not just jobs bill but whole jobs agenda for the next six months.”

Schumer added, “We said after Massachusetts, we’re shifting our focus to jobs and the economy: That’s just what we’re doing. It’s working out well.”

However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) muddied his own message on job creation Thursday by pushing aside a bipartisan bill negotiated by Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in favor of a more narrowly focused bill.

Though Republicans reacted negatively to Reid’s decision, the Majority Leader still hopes to secure GOP support for the measure, considering the four provisions in his bill — a highway bill extension, a small-business expensing tax credit, a new hire job credit and an extension of the Build America Bonds program — formed the basis of the Baucus-Grassley deal. Republicans had sought the addition of tax extenders and a fix for Medicare doctors’ payments, among other things.

Regardless, Senate Democrats are being urged to plug the jobs agenda during their week at home. The recess packet given to Members before leaving town advises Democrats to host job fairs with local businesses or to hold business roundtables or press conferences with small-business leaders to discuss job-creation incentives in the Democratic agenda.

Appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who is facing a potential tough primary and general election this year, said she has already spent the past few weeks “talking about my ideas for job creation” and that the recess would be no different.

“I’m very excited about a lot of the ideas that are on the table because I think they actually will create jobs,” Gillibrand said of the Senate Democratic jobs agenda. “I think the tax cut for every new job created is very meaningful, and I think the increase in lending for small business is very meaningful.”

Though Democrats plan to push a number of job-creation bills this year, they have laid out a number of ideas they believe will create incentives for hiring, including funding more transportation and infrastructure projects, providing myriad small-business tax credits, extending unemployment benefits, and creating new energy efficiency tax credits to retrofit homes and buildings.

Reid’s recent decision to shelve the Baucus-Grassley measure may make it harder for Democrats to heed the advice of their recess packet, which urges them to emphasize that “we hope to get bipartisan support for some if not most of this agenda and are inviting Republicans to share their ideas and proposals. We will work with them when we can, but will not let obstruction stand in the way of creating jobs for millions of Americans who need them.”

House Democratic leaders, meanwhile, are telling their rank and file to focus on touting the big item that has actually made it to the president’s desk: the $787 billion economic stimulus package that President Barack Obama signed into law a year ago next Wednesday. With the chamber still working on the next round of legislation aimed at boosting employment rolls, Democratic aides said they are encouraging lawmakers to use the stimulus bill’s first anniversary as an opportunity to sell their constituents on its success reviving the economy.

Aides to Vice President Joseph Biden recently briefed House Democratic press secretaries on talking points to pitch the measure’s performance. They include pointing to an assessment by the Congressional Budget Office showing the package “is already responsible for as many as 2.4 million jobs” through 2009 and touting tax cuts to “95 percent of working families” and loans to more than 42,000 small businesses. “But we are just getting started with the Recovery Act — there is even more to come … with peak spending occurring early this year,” the memo continues.

“What was in that one bill sometimes takes an entire Congress or multiple Congresses to get done,” one House Democratic leadership aide said. “It’s important to go back and remind folks what this did and with the one year anniversary of the signing, it’s important for folks to understand this is really paying off.”

To put a finer point on the sales job, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) staff on Thursday was finalizing a new district-by-district breakdown of jobs saved or created by the bill. And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was readying an offensive calling out Republicans for claiming credit for projects funded by the stimulus though they voted against it.

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