Reid Puts Tourism Up Front

Posted February 23, 2010 at 6:37pm

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hopes the Senate’s newfound ardor for passing jobs bills will help him pass a tourism promotion measure important to his home state this week — even before the Senate takes up a set of popular health insurance and unemployment fixes.

Reid’s decision to push the tourism bill ahead of must-pass tax extenders and extensions to unemployment benefits and COBRA health insurance riled Republicans, who charged that Reid was using the Senate floor for his own electoral needs.

“I understand it’s important to Nevada and his re-election. I’d rather we’d be engaged in something that would have a broader impact. But I think I understand where he’s coming from,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said.

Republicans, framing the measure as strictly a parochial concern for the Majority Leader, played up the Nevada business community’s drumbeat for the bill while Reid and President Barack Obama were in the state over the recent recess. The bill is designed to help encourage foreign travelers to come to the United States.

But Reid insisted Tuesday that the tourism bill is part of Democrats’ jobs agenda.

“We’re going to move to travel promotion, another jobs bill,” Reid told reporters, noting that foreign tourism to the U.S. has dropped by 5 percent since 2001.

“The bill that we will vote on next will save about a half a billion dollars over 10 years and will create tens of thousands of jobs in the service industry. It is a jobs bill, and that is an understatement. The United States Travel Association, yesterday, called the last 10 years a lost decade for tourism. It cost us half a million jobs and a billion dollars in lost spending. And this bill will turn that around,” Reid said.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also noted that the chamber is expected to pass a short-term extension to the unemployment and health insurance programs as soon as today to make room to do both the travel bill and a long-term extension.

[IMGCAP(1)]”That’s why the short-term extension is coming up maybe even today. … With that short-term extension, we have time to move in this work period to do both,” Durbin said.

Senate Democratic aides said they have been assured Republicans will not filibuster the tourism bill, but the GOP wasn’t making it easier for them to pass it, either. One aide charged that Republicans were holding up a vote on the jobs bill at press time in order to make it harder for Reid to squeeze in consideration of the tourism measure this week.

Reid also has to pass an extension of unemployment insurance this week because the current authorizations expire on Sunday.

Democratic aides argued that the measure is not just a Reid priority, pointing to support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business associations. One leadership aide made the case that tourism is one of the top five industry sectors in many states other than Nevada.

The Democratic leadership aide said Reid is still putting together the next jobs bill package, which will include tax extenders, extensions to COBRA and unemployment insurance, and other provisions. That process is expected to take several more days and, rather than let the Senate stagnate in endless quorum calls, Reid opted to move the tourism bill and help keep up Democrats’ momentum in the jobs debate.

“It builds momentum. It allows us a couple of days to put together the best possible package that will hopefully get bipartisan support,” the aide said.

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.