Reid Pushes to Speed Reform Debate; Both Chambers Eye Jobs Bills

Posted May 1, 2010 at 10:39am

While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) agreed to an open amendment process for the financial regulatory reform debate, he is already seeking to shorten the timeline as he stares down a laundry list of other priorities.

Reid laid the groundwork Friday by asking colleagues for “limited time on these amendments” and to complete work “in a time that’s appropriate.”

“We have so much more to do here, and we’ve been prevented basically this week from getting to this bill by the minority,” Reid complained. “I hope that in the future they’ll recognize that there are other things to do in this body that are of extreme importance to our country.”

The financial reform measure authored by Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) is expected to stay on the Senate floor for at least two weeks. The number of amendments to the measure could range from three-dozen to well over 100, by some estimates.

The grueling slog ahead of the chamber leading up to the Memorial Day break will likely include debate on a food safety measure, appropriations bills, energy reform and tax extenders. Members are also eager to take up a small-business lending measure that falls under the Democrats’ jobs agenda. But as Reid reminded colleagues Friday, all priorities are on hold until the Senate passes financial reform.

“I’ve explained the longer you hold up on us moving to legislation, the more difficult it will be to get some of the things you want to do,” Reid said.

The Senate returns Monday afternoon, but no votes are scheduled until Tuesday, when the chamber takes up an amendment by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) that would ensure no taxpayer money is used to bail out suffering banks.

As the House turns to another jobs-boosting measure, election-year fault lines over which party voters should blame for high unemployment and over the merits of Democratic plans to put people back to work will once again be on full display.

This time, the pitch to voters will take the form of a “cash for caulkers” bill, a play on the popular Cash for Clunkers car trade-in program enacted last summer.

Democrats say the legislation, which would authorize $6 billion to provide rebates to individuals who retrofit their homes with more energy-efficient doors, windows and insulation, would save or create 168,000 jobs and note that the bill has support from the manufacturing sector and from organized labor.

“We will be relentless in our pursuit of job-creating initiatives,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters last week, a day ahead of the release of third-quarter gross domestic product numbers that Democrats are trumpeting as evidence that their economic policies are working.

Democratic aides said the bill, which they say would save homeowners $9.2 billion on their energy bills, would allow Democrats to continue sending the message that the majority party is doing what it can to help Main Street, while Republicans, by opposing regulatory reform, are standing by Wall Street, a charge that GOP lawmakers roundly reject.

Debate over the cash for caulkers bill has become polarized, in part because the White House has come out strongly in favor of the legislation. The bill has just one GOP co-sponsor, retiring Rep. Vernon Ehlers of Michigan, and passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 15 with the support of just two Republicans.

The House will not be in session Monday, and votes will be postponed until Tuesday evening. No votes are expected in the chamber Friday.