House Members Push for Quick Action on Jobs

Posted December 8, 2009 at 6:51pm

With President Barack Obama endorsing a hefty jobs package Tuesday, House Democrats are eyeing a fast-track bill that could give them something to crow about as they head home at the end of the year.

But even with rank-and-file Democrats strongly supporting quick action, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) acknowledged the jobs bill could slip until next year.

“We need to do the jobs bill right and we need to do it soon, but doing it in the next 10 days is not necessarily essential,— Hoyer said, suggesting that a bill could come together in January.

Hoyer said Democrats are still talking to the Senate and the White House and still may pass a bill next week.

“The House wants a jobs bill this year,— said a House leadership aide. “It’s uncertain what the Senate and the White House want.—

Obama cited $200 billion in extra Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout funding as an offset for the package, which House Democratic leaders had already planned to tap, but he did not lay out a timetable for action.

He summoned Democratic and Republican leaders to the White House to talk about the jobs issue at an 11 a.m. meeting today.

Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) said the overwhelming sentiment inside the caucus is to pass a bill quickly.

“Clearly, if you were in [the House Democrats’ Caucus meeting Tuesday], you would have heard a number of Members get up and again voice their strong opinions about the need to do something,— he said. “Whether the Senate can or will respond, that’s not up to us. We have to do our job. We hope they can.—

“There’s no reason to wait,— said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a chief deputy whip, who said Members are hearing again and again back home that they need to do something.

“We come back here from being home and we all hear it,— she said. Constituents, regardless of what issue Members are talking to them about, will say “that’s very nice, but you’ve got to do something about jobs,— she said.

House Democrats have been cobbling together their package for weeks, planning to use about $100 billion in emergency spending to extend pieces of the original $787 billion stimulus package, including unemployment benefits and aid to the states, and $70 billion or more for infrastructure paid for with unused TARP funds.

The White House has pushed a smaller number — $50 billion — for infrastructure. Obama also wants more tax cuts for small businesses, and funding for energy efficiency.

Focus on Infrastructure

Some Members, including Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), have been pushing for a jobs bill focused primarily on infrastructure, believing it could attract a number of Republican votes. “I would like to have a separate vote on something that is solely creating jobs,— he said, adding that transportation funds are being spent faster than other pieces of the stimulus package. “We can spend that money productively and quickly,— he said.

But there likely will be demands for a wide variety of spending financed by leftover TARP funds. Earlier this year, the White House and House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) agreed to attach to regulatory reform legislation a TARP-funded spending package boosting efforts to stem the housing foreclosure crisis.

The $4 billion housing package was included to win the support of the Congressional Black Caucus, which had boycotted the bill over concerns about jobs and the economy.

“They absolutely got the message,— Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said. “Look at that $4 billion. … The Congressional Black Caucus decided that we would not be silent any longer. … Ten Members absent on Financial Services gets a little attention.—

Democratic leaders also face new pressure from Reps. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), chairman of the House Trade Working Group, and Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), chairman of the Populist Caucus, to include a “Buy American— provision in the jobs package.

House Republicans, meanwhile, ripped Obama’s latest plan as more of the same stimulus spending that they say has not worked.

“You just can’t spend money that we don’t have and keep doing it,— House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said. “I absolutely disagree that we can spend the way out of recession.—

Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.