Senate Republicans Say No Jobs Deal Yet

Posted February 9, 2010 at 1:01pm

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) expressed confidence that he would be ready to announce a bipartisan jobs bill on Tuesday, but GOP leadership aides cautioned that Republicans have yet to sign off on any deal and are unlikely to do so until they have had a chance to read the bill.

“We expect to introduce the bill today,” Reid told reporters after returning to the Capitol from the White House, where Senate and House leaders met with President Barack Obama for about an hour and a half to discuss a jobs package.

Reid did not detail what would be in the legislation but did say it would include an extension of the Highway Trust Fund and would not include a provision dealing with the estate tax.

But while Republican aides said staff-level talks appeared to be nearing an end, they stressed that GOP Senators won’t be ready to begin debating it until they have reviewed a final proposal.

“Its absolutely fair to say” that Republican leadership has not signed off on a deal to bring the bill to the floor, one GOP Senate leadership aide said.

“We have not even been presented with a final package. It’s beyond signing off on it. We haven’t even seen what they intend to introduce. … I find it very had to believe that anybody is going to agree to something sight unseen.”

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said the Highway Trust Fund would be extended for one year. She also said the package would extend certain expiring tax provisions, contain funding for Build America bonds, tax breaks for small businesses, and a proposal by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to provide a payroll tax break to companies that hire new workers.

Boxer said only “a few” Republicans opposed the Highway Trust Fund extension, which she said would be fully offset by $20 billion in interest owed to the trust fund.
“So we’re going to have it in the jobs bill,” she added. “It’s fully paid for — interest on the fund that’s due the fund.”

Republicans, however, disputed Boxer’s claim that the highway extension would be included, saying it remains unclear whether the provision would be in the forthcoming jobs bill or offered as an amendment.

A Republican leadership aide said Tuesday that a number of GOP lawmakers are still having trouble getting back to Washington, and that it is unclear whether they will be back Tuesday. Many flights were canceled in the wake of the weekend blizzard that blanketed the city with two feet of snow.

Despite the uncertainty, Reid did lay out a procedural road map: He said the chamber would take up a House-passed jobs bill already on the calendar, which would serve as a shell bill, and that the Senate jobs package would take the form of a substitute amendment to that legislation, either “bipartisan or not so bipartisan.”

Reid declined to comment on how many Republicans were likely to sign on to the jobs package, saying only, “As of last night, we had some good support” and that he had no reason to believe that had changed.

“I don’t know of any sticking points at this stage. … I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Reid said, adding that he may keep the Senate in session through the weekend to complete the bill if necessary.

“I want to get it done, and we may have to work into the weekend because of the weather,” Reid said.

But even if a deal on the Senate jobs measure is reached, it remains unclear what the House will do. According to a Republican aide familiar with Tuesday’s White House meeting, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressed significant skepticism about the small-business tax credit likely to be included in the bill. Liberal members of Pelosi’s Caucus have balked at the tax proposal as well as other tax measures expected to be included in the Senate package.