After a year of hearings, markups, and closed-door negotiations on healthcare reform, Senate Democrats aim to move their next top priority – a jobs agenda – in just over a week.
That means the first procedural vote as early as Monday and final passage by Feb. 12, when the Senate breaks for a week.
“For Senate Democrats, creating jobs is Job No. 1,” said Senate majority leader Harry Reid at a briefing Thursday.
Democrats began briefing staff Thursday on a 500-page bill that includes a vast array of programs and tax extenders, some of which has bipartisan support. But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell isn't committed yet to allowing the whole bill to move forward.
With the swearing-in Thursday of the Senate’s 41st Republican, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Democrats fall below the 60-vote threshold needed to move legislation. They now need at least one Republican vote to avoid procedural roadblocks.
Democrats have been consulting within their own ranks since early January to develop ideas that will create jobs fast.
These include: tax incentives for employers adding new employees in 2010, programs to give small businesses more access to credit, tax rebates and grants for energy-efficiency upgrades, and investments in crucial public services (firefighters, police officers, teachers, and so on) as well as infrastructure (bridges, highways, transit systems, airports, schools, etc.).
President Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2011, released on Monday, includes $100 billion for job creation. But Senate Democrats aim to move new tax credits and funding into the pipeline this year.
How many jobs will be saved or created? “As many as we can,” said Senator Reid at the Thursday briefing. “We’re going to focus on what the Congressional Budget Office says would create jobs now.”
How much will it cost and how will it be funded? “The first package will be funded without any heartburn,” he added.
Why so few details on a bill on such a fast track? “We’re not going to step on the message,” he said.
According to GOP spokesmen, Republicans first heard of the launch of a new jobs agenda three hours after the briefing. Republican leaders have already signaled that they want a jobs bill focused on tax cuts, not new spending. They also want quick action on the estate tax, which phased out this year but would return in 2011 – to a 55 percent top rate – if Congress doesn’t act.
It’s not clear that the minority intends to use its 41 votes to derail a jobs bill. For one thing, on Wednesday, Sens. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah and Charles Schumer (D) of New York released details of a $10 billion proposal to refund the employer share of the Social Security payroll tax to employers who hire new workers this year. There would be additional tax credits for employers who keep those workers on the payroll for more than a year.
“If the perception is that we're going to have more policies coming out of Washington that are going to increase the cost of doing business, they're simply not going to do business,” she said, citing new taxes in proposed healthcare bills and tax hikes in the 2011 White House budget.
At a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, she also called for a jobs impact statement on every piece of legislation that goes through the Congress, “so that we know whether or not it’s actually creating jobs, losing jobs, or preserving jobs.”
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