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With jobs bill, Democrats' new strategy: piecemeal legislation

A pared-down approach with the jobs bill gave Democrats a surprise win in a key procedural vote on Monday. Democrats plan to continue the strategy with other legislation.

By Staff writer / February 23, 2010

Harry Reid's piecemeal approach may have helped push through a Democratic surprise win in a key procedural vote on the jobs bill on Monday.

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Senate majority leader Harry Reid may have found the secret to moving legislation: do it piecemeal.

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That is, carve up bills into smaller measures – and repackage elements to include those with broad support.

For the jobs bill, expected to pass the Senate on Wednesday, that meant taking an $85 billion jobs bill down to $15 billion and deferring other elements for subsequent votes. This pared-down approach gave Democrats a surprise win in a key procedural vote on Monday, as five Republicans split with their party to back the measure.

“Yesterday, we took a step, a strong first step toward putting Americans back to work, but ... it's a first step. This is the beginning, not the end,” Senator Reid said Tuesday.

Democrats plan to continue the strategy with a tourism promotion bill, a series of measures to help small businesses, and a package of popular tax-credit extensions, including an extension of unemployment benefits.

“We’re deeply concerned about the availability of capital for small business as well as for people who are unemployed,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) of Michigan. “Everything that we intended to do relates to jobs.”

The tourism bill, especially helpful to states such as Nevada, which has been hard hit by a drop-off in visitors, proposes creating a nonprofit corporation to promote travel to the United States and correct “misperceptions about US entry policy” since the 9/11 attacks. It would be financed by an annual assessment of $20 million from the tourism industry and $100 million a year from taxpayers.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, international travel to the US has dropped 17 percent, accounting for some $100 billion in lost visitor spending, according to the US Travel Association. New national security restrictions have discouraged many visitors from coming to the US.

“The Senate understands that ... you have to get things passed. Backing off just a bit and taking them one at a time, we were able to make progress,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) of North Dakota, who is sponsoring the travel bill.

Republicans are calling for a gradual approach for healthcare and energy reform. “The comprehensive immigration bill, the comprehensive cap-and-trade bill, and the president’s comprehensive healthcare plan all fell of their own weight,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee, who chairs the Senate Republican Conference. “A comprehensive approach is for professors, but our country is too big and complicated to be legislating that way.”

Republicans and Democrats largely agree on the need for more nuclear plants, electric cars, offshore drilling, and research and development for green technologies, he added. “We should do these issues step by step,” he said.

House Democrats have not yet committed to taking up a scaled-down jobs bill. The House passed a $154 billion jobs bill late last year that the Senate has yet to take up.

“That is an option,” said House majority leader Steny Hoyer, responding to a question on whether the House would take up the Senate’s $15 billion jobs bill, once it passes as expected in the Senate. “It is accurate to say that there would be disagreements. But whether those disagreements are such that we won’t want to go to conference, we are going to decide in the near future,” he said.

But Representative Hoyer and other House Democrats welcomed the prospect that at least some Republicans were willing to support the Senate jobs bill – especially the newest senator, Scott Brown (R) of Massachusetts.

“I was interested to see that the new senator that theoretically was going to put a monkey wrench did the opposite. He facilitated moving ahead. I hope that continues,” Hoyer said.

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