Harry Reid Puts the Senate Jobs Bill on a Diet

The only thing that paralyzes Washington lawmakers more than rancorous politics is the weather. Though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had hoped to complete a jobs bill this week, the legislation remains a work in progress thanks to back-to-back snow storms that have blanketed Washington and prevented some senators from returning to the Capitol.Still, there's progress to report. On Thursday, two members of the Senate Finance Committee -- Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) -- laid out details for a bipartisan, $85 billion plan to spur job creation. Among the provisions contained within bill's 361 pages is one that exempts employers from paying payroll social security taxes on newly hired workers who have been unemployed for at least 60 days. The draft legislation also contains measures to extend unemployment benefits for those who soon risk losing them.

But that item and several others will have to be dealt with later, said Reid, D-Nev., in speaking with reporters later Thursday, Bloomberg News reported. "The American people need a message," Reid said. "We don't have a jobs bill, we have a jobs agenda. We're going to move forward on that jobs agenda."

Other Components Can Wait

In an effort to do so, Reid scaled back the proposal to four items. In addition to the payroll-tax exemption, the streamlined bill also includes extensions of both the Build America Bonds program, which allows small businesses to write off some expenses quickly, and the Highway Trust Fund, which helps state and local governments pay for road and transit improvements.

Other components of the original draft bill, such as an extension of a subsidy to laid-off workers to help pay premiums for health coverage offered through their previous employer, will be taken up in later legislation, Reid said.

With the nation's unemployment rate stubbornly hovering at near 10%, there's no question that Congress needs to act, says John Challenger, chief executive at Challenger, Gary & Christmas, a Chicago-based employment-services firm.

What's Really Needed: Economic Growth

"The pressure to act looks like it's going to create bipartisan support, which is very rare," says Challenger, adding that the proposals put forth are "the best medicine available to address the issue," even if they are modest. Ultimately, it'll take a robust economy to reduce the unemployment rate substantially.

President Obama has been pushing for Congress to move quickly in crafting and passing a jobs bill. Whether Republicans will sign on to Reid's slimmed-down version of the Finance Committee bill remains to be seen. Speaking to reporters, Reid said Republicans have a choice to make about whether to support "a bipartisan bill that will create jobs."

Still, given the delays old man winter has already caused, the soonest the Senate could vote on a jobs bill would be the week of Feb. 22 -- past the Presidents' Day holiday deadline Reid had hoped to beat.
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