Senate ready to tackle jobs

By Tami Luhby, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Senate Democrats are expected to take up President Obama's call and start rolling out their job creation package by week's end.

They could roll out legislation as soon as Thursday and start voting on Monday, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He would like a bill in hand before lawmakers recess for the President's Day holiday next Friday.

With the balance of power changed in the Senate, Democrats have moved away from introducing a comprehensive bill similar to the $154 billion legislation passed by the House in December. Instead, the Democrats will likely push through smaller measures in stages.

"First of all, we do not have a jobs bill," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Tuesday. "We have a jobs agenda that we're working on."

Sensitive to the political shift, Reid said he's hoping for a bipartisan bill, though he declined to provide details or a cost estimate at Thursday's press conference. But Democrats will push ahead regardless of whether the Republicans join, he said

The Democrats' agenda includes: Renewing existing highway legislation for a year, which is expected to result in one million jobs, Reid said. Also, enacting small business and job creation tax credits. And extending Build America Bonds, a stimulus measure that helps states and municipalities fund capital construction projects.

The president's fiscal 2011 budget, unveiled Monday, would direct $50 billion to job creation measures, including clean energy initiatives and road projects.

"Infrastructure is where the jobs are, and we need to move in that direction rapidly," Reid said.

The first bill will likely come out of the finance committee. Top Republicans there are conferring with their Democratic counterparts, but the legislation is still in the works.

While the GOP supports tax credits, members don't feel additional spending on roads and states will create jobs, a Republican Senate aide said. Also, they'd like too see the bill address the estate tax, which disappeared this year but will return in 2011.

Coming next on the Democrats' list: Enacting the president's Cash for Caulkers proposal, which would subsidize making homes and buildings more energy efficient, and extending the stimulus grants for surface transportation.

The first job creation bill was unveiled on Wednesday. The measure, promoted by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, would absolve any private-sector employer who hires a worker who's been unemployed for at least 60 days of paying the 6.2% share of the employee's Social Security payroll tax for the rest of 2010.

Also, employers who keep these workers on the payroll continuously for a year would be eligible for a non-refundable $1,000 tax credit on their 2011 tax returns.

"This proposal isn't about more and more government spending; it's about tax relief to get employers hiring again," Hatch said.

Democrats' other measures, however, aren't likely to get as warm a reception from the GOP. Already, several Republican senators have come out against using TARP bank bailout funds to jumpstart lending to small businesses and raising taxes on the wealthy.

"If you're in business now and you're trying to figure out what the future is, you're looking at health care taxes, you're looking at capital gains taxes going up, dividend taxes going up," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday. "If you are a small business and pay taxes as an individual taxpayer, your taxes are going up. So, is that a great environment in which to expand employment? I think the answer is no."

Since Obama outlined his job creation push in his State of the Union speech last week, he has traveled up and down the East Coast promoting his small business initiatives. These include jumpstarting small business lending by giving $30 billion in TARP funds to banks and providing these firms with a $5,000 tax credit for each addition to their payrolls.

"Today, one in 10 Americans still can't find work," Obama said in Nashua, N.H., on Tuesday. "That's why jobs has to be our number one focus in 2010. And we're going to start where most new jobs start -- with small businesses." To top of page

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