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Future Of Senate's 'Bipartisan' Jobs Bill Looks Shaky

"We don't have a jobs bill," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. "We have a jobs agenda, and we're going to move forward on that jobs agenda."
Manuel Balce Ceneta
"We don't have a jobs bill," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. "We have a jobs agenda, and we're going to move forward on that jobs agenda."

After taking a snow day Wednesday, Senate Democrats made their way to the Capitol Thursday to roll out their latest proposal for creating more jobs.

Several leading Republicans have endorsed measures in the bill, so for now at least, it's being called bipartisan. But there are already doubts about the bill's prospects.

Senate Democrats are keenly aware that Americans seem to care more these days about the high unemployment rate than they do about the ruling party's stalled health care legislation. So when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Thursday that he's bringing up a new jobs bill, he made it clear that he thought Americans need a message:

"The message that they need is that we're doing something about jobs," Reid said. "We don't have a jobs bill. We have a jobs agenda, and we're going to move forward on that jobs agenda. The first phase of that is going to be this afternoon."

But Reid added that because so many senators can't make it to Capitol Hill owing to Wednesday's Olympic-sized snowstorm, there won't be any votes on a job bill until after next week's Presidents Day recess.

Something For Everyone

What's notable about this new effort at encouraging job growth is that Democrats have reached out to Republicans to find some things that they support for what all agree may be the first in a series of measures. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said the country is hungry for bipartisanship.

"What the country is looking for is getting beyond 'gotcha' politics. And instead of scoring political points, they want to see Democrats and Republicans come up with some ways to score some policy points," Wyden said.

The bill proposes spending about $90 billion on priming the job pump. It includes a payroll tax break for employers who hire workers who've been unemployed more than two months. There is $20 billion in it for a yearlong extension of the highway bill, and there are other tax breaks for businesses and those who buy bonds that finance infrastructure projects. Arizona's Jon Kyl, the Senate's No. 2 Republican, says he assumes the Senate will adopt the bill in fairly short order.

"I don't agree with some parts of it. I'm sure some of my other colleagues don't agree with things that I like in it. But it's an effort to bring together a group of things that a large consensus can be developed around, and to get it passed," Kyl said.

Not Everyone Is Thrilled

But Arizona's other Republican senator, John McCain, has a dimmer view of the jobs bill:

"I'm concerned about how it's paid for," McCain said. "I'm concerned about loading it up with other extraneous provisions, which seems to be the habit we've gotten into around here. I withhold judgment until I get a chance to see how much extraneous stuff is added on to it, and how much does it increase the deficit again."

And some economists question whether giving tax breaks to firms that hire more workers will really lead to more jobs.

"A lot of the money will go toward supporting employment gains that would have taken place even without the tax subsidy. So the government has given up revenue, companies are better off, they paid less income taxes, but they don't really have any more people on their payroll on Dec. 31 than they would have in the absence of the tax credit," said Gary Burtless, a jobs economist at the Brookings Institution.

Jobs Bill Outlook

So can this jobs bill pass? Reid seemed doubtful about whether GOP support for it will last:

"The Republicans, I don't know in logic what they could say to oppose this," Reid said, adding, "We've seen since Obama was elected, they have opposed everything. They are the party of 'no.' "

Too many times, Reid said, we've started out holding hands and wound up pointing fingers.

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