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K Streeters at Odds With GOP on Jobs Legislation

Business groups are reacting with frustration and caution to the somewhat chaotic and piecemeal way in which Congress is handling jobs legislation. And the rancorous debate over the bills may be straining relations between some Republican Members and their traditional downtown allies.

The procedural roadblock thrown up by Republican Sen. Jim Bunning (Ky.) that had prevented the extension of highway funding and unemployment benefits has dismayed many lobbying groups.

And lobbyists complain that Republican lawmakers have been reluctant to back amendments sought by various industries.

Even though they have prodded Congress to find ways to boost economic growth, many of the major trade groups have mixed views of the package of bills now moving haltingly on Capitol Hill.

They support the extension of tax credits in areas such as research and development, but are less enthusiastic about a provision to encourage small business to hire new workers.

The uncertainty over what may end up in the final legislation and ambivalence over what has already been approved has prompted business groups to take a pass so far on scoring lawmakers in how they vote on these bills. The ratings of lawmakers on “key votes” by business groups has traditionally been a significant factor during election years. Republicans, in particular, have sought the support of business groups.

However, officials from three major business organizations — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the National Association of Manufacturers — said they did not score the jobs bill that was approved by the Senate last week. In that vote, five Republicans, including newly elected Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, broke with the rest of their party to support cloture.

The bill would suspend Social Security payroll taxes for small businesses that hire the unemployed. However, an NFIB spokeswoman said the group believes a broader “payroll tax holiday” that wouldn’t be specifically tied to hiring new employees would be more effective.

“There won’t be a key vote on this. There is not a whole lot in there for small business,” said the NFIB’s Melissa Sharp. She added that her group had not decided whether it will score another bill that is now being considered by the Senate that includes the tax extenders.

“We’re waiting to see how it all unfolds,” she said. “We want to see what amendments there will be.”

NAM is pursuing a similar approach.

“We’re taking it one day at a time. It is not black and white for us,” NAM spokeswoman Erin Streeter said.

Last month, NAM President John Engler issued a statement expressing disappointment after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) decided to split up a comprehensive jobs bill that had been brokered by leading Republicans and Democrats.

That original bill included tax extenders provisions as well as tax incentives for small-business job creation and extensions of unemployment and health benefits. However, some liberal Democrats were angry that the bill extended tax incentives for the year while it only continued unemployment benefits for three months.

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