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House Democrats have exit signs in their eyes.
In order to wrap up their work for the year in time for a delegation led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to jet to an international climate change summit in Copenhagen, Democrats are set to do some hyper-legislating today.
On tap is a $626 billion Defense spending bill loaded with scaled-down patches for unemployment and other benefits; a two-month debt limit increase totaling about $200 billion; a roughly $150 billion jobs package, half paid for with money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program; and a short-term continuing resolution to give the Senate until next week to approve the Defense measure.
Democratic leaders started the week with a plan to send the Senate a massive package that jammed together the Defense spending bill with a long-term debt ceiling increase and the jobs package. Their decision to move a leaner Defense bill instead and the jobs bill and a short-term debt extension separately reflects an acknowledgment of reality in the chamber. It also reflects the desire of Democratic leadership to send its Members home for the holidays with no threat of returning after Christmas though on the outside chance that the Senate amends the Defense bill, another House vote could still be required this year.
House leaders recognized that Senators, consumed with the health care debate, were unlikely to swallow whole the House jobs package. And objections from moderates in both chambers were complicating efforts to pass an increase in the debt limit up to $1.9 trillion aimed at carrying the federal government into December 2010 and punting the next difficult vote on the issue past the midterm elections.
Instead, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is leading negotiations with Blue Dog Democrats and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) to pass a longer-term debt ceiling increase next year that will also include two top priorities for the fiscal hawks: enshrining pay-as-you-go budgeting into law and setting up a commission to tackle soaring entitlement spending.
Were dealing with reality here, one House Democratic leadership aide said. Its nice to make a point and send something over there. By passing a jobs bill thats separate, we still get to lay down our marker, but it doesnt hold up the show for no real reason. It came down to, What can the Senate get done? And the answer is, Not very much.
The jobs bill has two components. The first, considered emergency spending and therefore not paid for with tax increases or spending cuts, extends funding for six months for unemployment and health benefits, food stamps, and Medicaid assistance to states. The second, paid for with redirected TARP funds, provides funding for infrastructure projects, credit for small businesses and aid to state and local governments to shore up public service jobs.
Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) dismissed criticism that TARP funds should be used instead to reduce the deficit. TARP was used to assist Wall Street. Now the problem is on Main Street and we make no sort of apology whatsoever for trying to give the same amount of attention to Main Street needs as were given earlier to Wall Street needs, he said.