Senate Republicans accused Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) of abandoning bipartisanship Thursday after he rejected a broad job-creation bill negotiated by Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Reid's decision to pursue a smaller package of jobs proposals came only hours after Baucus and Grassley announced a draft bipartisan bill they had crafted over several weeks of discussions with Republican and Democratic Senators, including Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Reid told reporters that when the Senate returns from the Presidents Day recess on Feb. 22, "we will move to a smaller package than has been talked about in the press," and that package would only include a one-year extension of the highway act, a Build America Bonds provision, a small-business tax program and a small-business tax credit bill proposed by Schumer and Hatch.
The decision to pursue a narrower bill and drop a number of key tax provisions angered Republicans.
"Sen. Reid's announcement sends a message that he wants to go partisan and blame Republicans when Sen. Grassley and others were trying to find common ground on solutions to help get the economy back on track and people back to work," Grassley spokeswoman Jill Kozeny said Thursday evening.
"Sen. Reid did this just as Republican Senators were saying they liked things in the Baucus-Grassley draft, which would have prevented billions of dollars in tax increases and offset any spending. The Majority Leader pulled the rug out from work to build broad-based support for tax relief and other efforts to help the private sector recover from the economic crisis," Kozeny added.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley denied the Majority Leader's decision was based on partisan considerations. Instead, with his own Conference divided over whether to pursue a narrow bill or expand the legislation beyond the parameters of the Baucus-Grassley deal — and with GOP support still relatively tepid — Reid decided to pursue a targeted bill and tackle other issues later in the year, according to Manley.
"It was a tough decision. But Sen. Reid decided that in order to get a bill done as quickly as possible, he'd slim it down to its core parts," Manley said, adding that "we had people in the caucus that wanted a much more robust package."
"Things get watered down some here," Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.) said of the Baucus-Grassley measure. "I would prefer a jobs bill that simply focuses on specific job-creating initiatives. This bill has become something more than that. But maybe that's what has to be done in order to get some bipartisan support."
One senior Senate Democratic aide said part of Reid's decision rested on Member reaction to news reports earlier this week that made the Baucus-Grassley package seem more like a grab bag for lobbyists than a measure focused on job creation.
"It was turning into an omnibus package and not focused enough on jobs," said the aide.
The news stories pointing out that many of the provisions were tax cut extensions favored by business lobbyists alarmed some Senators, the aide said, because the measure would not be perceived "as a clear victory [for job creation] if it's going to be portrayed as a lobbyist potpourri."
Schumer also hinted that including miscellaneous items could be a problem for Democrats.
"I think when you start tying it to too many bells and whistles you run into trouble. People should be for jobs," Schumer told reporters.
Liberals also had bristled at including the tax extenders for a year, while only extending unemployment insurance for three months.
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said jobless benefits should get the same treatment as tax extenders.
"We're going to have high unemployment all this year. Everyone agrees with that," Harkin told reporters Thursday. "So why end [benefits] in three months? Why not give them the peace of mind of knowing that they're going to be able to have unemployment benefits at the end of the year, just like the tax cuts?"
Whether Reid will find it easier to move a smaller bill is unclear at best, particularly since Republicans said they felt betrayed by Reid's decision. The sense of betrayal was particularly acute, Republicans said, given the fact that they put aside bruised feelings from last year's health care debate.
"After seeing how Democrat leaders handled the partisan health care debate of last year, today's bombshell shouldn't be a surprise. But needless to say, Senator Hatch is deeply disappointed that the Majority Leader has abandoned a genuine bipartisan compromise only hours after it was unveiled in favor of business-as-usual, partisan gamesmanship," Hatch spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier said, adding that "to not allow any amendments to the package on the floor is exactly why the American people are so angry with Washington and can't be tolerated."