Washington Stung by criticism that a bipartisan jobs bill in the Senate wouldn’t create many jobs, Senate Democrats on Thursday proposed a new, stripped-down version they hope will still get support from Republicans and Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s latest bill focuses on several provisions aimed at boosting job creation, including a new tax break negotiated with Republicans for companies that hire unemployed workers and for small businesses that purchase new equipment. It also would renew highway programs and help states and local governments finance large infrastructure projects.
Reid, D-Nev., unveiled the pared-back plan after Senate Democrats balked at a broader bill stuffed with unrelated provisions sought by lobbyists for business groups and doctors. The surprise blew apart an agreement with Republicans like Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who worked with Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., for weeks to produce a bill with the extra provisions.
The original bill had won support from across the political spectrum, from President Barack Obama as well as conservative Republicans in the Senate. To get that support, however, the package had morphed into a 361-page grab bag of provisions that included extending benefits to the unemployed and tax breaks for businesses.
The bipartisan agreement is off. But Democrats say they now have a package focused solely on creating jobs, and they’re all but daring Republicans to vote against it.
The bigger bill got a mixed reception at a luncheon meeting of Democrats, many of whom were uncomfortable with a bill containing so many provisions unrelated to creating jobs, including loans for chicken producers and aid to catfish farmers.
The provisions also included a $31 billion package of tax breaks for individuals and businesses, an extension of several parts of the USA Patriot Act and higher payments for doctors facing Medicare payment cuts.
The surprise move appears to insulate Democrats from criticism that greeted the earlier, lobbyist-backed legislation leaked on Tuesday and unveiled by Baucus and Grassley — to praise from the White House — only hours before Reid’s announcement.
The centerpiece of Reid’s new bill is a $13 billion payroll tax credit for companies that hire unemployed workers. The idea would exempt businesses hiring unemployed workers in 2010 from the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax for those hires.