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Oberstar Looks to Trip Up Jobs Plan

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, at a press conference with his colleagues Wednesday, scored a big win when his chamber overwhelmingly voted for the first in a series of jobs bills.

Democratic leaders eager to notch a much-needed win on a jobs package are encountering stiff resistance from a pocket of House Democrats that could scramble plans to clear the bill this week.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) is leading a revolt by lawmakers angry with how highway funds are doled out under the $15 billion Senate version of the bill, which passed with wide bipartisan support Wednesday morning. And Oberstar claimed Wednesday night that the measure as is lacks the votes to pass.

“There are not the votes to pass it right now, so it’s got to be changed,” Oberstar said.

And members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition were raising separate concerns about whether the Senate bill complies with pay-as-you-go budgeting requirements.

The hitch threatens to upend a push by Democratic leaders on both sides of the Capitol to get the measure to the president’s desk this week and thereby boost momentum for a renewed stab at comprehensive health care reform.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) earlier Wednesday said she was hopeful the House could approve the package this week — a goal that she said could require lawmakers to swallow their concerns. “Some Members have some things they’d like to see. ... I’m not sure they can make it into this bill,” she said.

But House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said House Democrats could still make changes to the Senate bill and approve the package this week by working out an agreement with the other chamber outside of formal conference negotiations. House Democratic leaders were still struggling with how to proceed at press time, sources said.

At issue is the Senate formula for giving out $932 million in federal dollars for highway projects. Oberstar and others on his panel complained that more than half that money would go to four states — California, Illinois, Washington and Louisiana — while others receive a relative pittance or nothing at all. And Pelosi’s home state stands to get the most of all, $278 million, according to the committee.

Oberstar said “dozens and dozens” of lawmakers object to the scheme and would oppose it, pointing to 23 Democrats who signed onto a letter this week challenging it. He predicted others would join them.

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