Tale of two jobs bills: a parable of gridlock in Congress

The House passed the JOBS Act, which businesses call important but incremental. The much more consequential transportation bill, however, remains in partisan gridlock. 

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D) of California speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington Thursday. She said the JOBS Act amounted to a 'jobs bills light, especially compared with what we need to do on the transportation bill.'

The embers of bipartisanship burned a bit brighter on Capitol Hill Thursday as the House passed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, easing regulations on small businesses with solid bipartisan approval.

House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia hailed the 390 to 23 vote. “What we’re trying to do is regain the confidence of the people who sent us here, and by having a win like this, I think we can demonstrate that we really can work together,” he said.

The glow of bipartisan comity for the bite-sized JOBS bill, however, illuminated Congress' larger challenge: Bipartisan compromise on limited action like the JOBS Act is relatively easy, while heavy lifting on major bills, like the $109 billion transportation bill currently before the Senate, remains a Herculean task.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D) of California told reporters on Thursday morning that the JOBS Act amounted to a “jobs bills light, especially compared with what we need to do on the transportation bill.”

The JOBS bill stitched together six pieces of legislation, four of which had previously passed the House in one form or another. The measure had small-bore effects – mostly lightening the federal regulatory touch on companies attempting to raise capital.But the transportation bill is a sprawling piece of legislation touching all congressional districts, where bipartisanship in the Senate has not been able to move House Republicans toward action.

In the upper chamber, leaders have already agreed to a two-year accord that is expected to pass at the beginning of next week. But House Republicans have been unable to decide how to proceed with their own version of the transportation bill, rejecting several different forms of a bill during the past several weeks.  

In a potential rebuke to his own caucus, which wants to have a say in shaping the bill, House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio told reporters Thursday that in the absence of any agreement on his side he was planning to offer the Senate bill "or something like it" when members return to Washington after next week's recess.

There is urgency because the House will only have one week to work on the measure when they return from next week's recess before current transportation funding runs out at the end of March.

The gridlock on the transportation bill, however, should not diminish the achievement of the JOBS bill, said its author, Congressman Cantor.

“It doesn’t help to denigrate any time we work together to produce a result like today," Cantor said. "Because you probably have to look far and wide and see when that happens in such a deliberate and civil manner.”

Business groups hailed the measure even while acknowledging its incremental nature.

“While this is good policy, we hope it’s a first step for this Congress to continue some [other] small business issues,” said Kevan Chapman, a spokesman for the National Federation of Independent Businesses. Over "the past few years, we know access to capital has been fairly problematic due to the economy, from banks and from investors. Anyone who doesn’t think that that’s important doesn’t have a lot of experience in business.”

Senate Democrats said they would move rapidly on the bill, and President Obama has expressed support for the legislation.

Still, even a warm-and-fuzzy moment by congressional standards was not without totally without partisan tweaking.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York posited that the Senate version of the bill would likely differ from the House version in its consumer and investor protections.

Asked if he would be willing to go into the conference process to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, Cantor noted the fastest way forward was to simply take the House bill as-is.

“If we want to act with dispatch, seems to me the simplest way forward is to listen to the President on this one, the overwhelming majority in the House, bipartisan, and let’s join together and do something for entrepreneurs,” he said.

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