Jobs, Taxes Dominate Agenda as Congress Returns

Posted April 10, 2010 at 1:13pm

Senators will return from the two-week break Monday night to cast a procedural vote on a short-term extension of unemployment benefits, an issue that could consume the chamber for the bulk of the week.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed cloture on the House-passed measure after he was unable to clear an extension just before the two-week spring recess. The issue has repeatedly come up in the chamber this year, with Republicans demanding the measures be paid for, while Democrats consider it emergency spending that does not require offsets. That debate is almost sure to continue this week.

With a final vote on the unemployment insurance extension coming as late as Wednesday, the Senate could finish out the week considering a handful of nominees, an issue that received renewed interest over the break when President Barack Obama used his recess appointment power to clear 15 names.

More than 70 appointees are awaiting a vote on the Senate floor, including 22 judicial nominees. First-term Democrats have been agitating for more aggressive action to try to break through the stalemate on nominations, but with the retirement announcement of Justice John Paul Stevens on Friday, it remains unclear how hard they might push with the high-profile debate over Stevens’ replacement just around the corner.

Continuing its jobs agenda push from the last work period, the Senate will also likely consider a small-business lending bill in the coming weeks and a financial regulatory reform measure, an issue being pushed by Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).

Dodd has for months sought the support of Republicans and will likely continue negotiations this week as the bill moves closer to floor action.

In the House, much of the focus this week is likely to be on partisan messaging associated with Thursday’s deadline to file individual income tax returns.

Republicans are seizing on the occasion, trying to enhance their election-year portrait of Democrats as irresponsible guardians of the federal purse strings.

“With more out-of-control spending and massive tax increases at the core of the Democrats’ job-killing agenda, how many budding entrepreneurs and small business owners will decide the risk of following their dreams simply isn’t worth government debt and taxes taking almost forty percent of the reward?” Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) said Friday in a statement. “No nation in the world has ever taxed and indebted itself into prosperity. It’s time to unshackle our job creators from the bonds of reckless government spending.”

Democrats will use a yet-to-be-unveiled proposal sponsored by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) dubbed the Taxpayer Assistance Act to further their own tax day message.

Matthew Beck, a spokesman for the Ways and Means Committee, said Friday that bill text was still being finalized.

Leadership aides from both parties said they expected Lewis’ bill — which one Democratic aide described as a “good government” proposal — to garner support from both sides of the aisle. A Republican leadership aide said the proposal likely would include several GOP-sponsored provisions, including one by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) to eliminate an outdated tax benefit for cell phones.

Lewis, who chairs the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, at a March 16 hearing cited numerous problems taxpayers face, particularly low-income people, when dealing with the Internal Revenue Service, including unanswered calls, overcomplicated payment procedures and steep penalties and liens.

“We must simplify the process to make it easier for taxpayers to meet their obligations,” Lewis added. “In some cases, the laws may need to be changed, and, in other cases, the IRS may need to change its policies. Either way, the time is now to address these problems.”

Legislation outlawing the use of caller ID manipulation technology and a bill requiring two federal agencies to inventory the radio spectrum also are on the House’s agenda this week.

Although the House will come back into session at 2 p.m. Tuesday, votes will be postponed until 6:30 p.m., as they customarily are. The chamber is slated to be in session Friday.