The Senate has settled on a plan to take up a narrow jobs creation package rather than a more ambitious plan under consideration.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., made the announcement on Thursday, pushing aside a bipartisan proposal offered earlier by the Senate Finance Committee that extended some tax cuts that many lawmakers believe would help spur job growth.
“The message is so watered down with people wanting other things in this big package,” Reid said, explaining his decision to move forward with a $15 billion proposal rather than the $85 billion measure originally under consideration.
The bill's centerpiece is a proposal by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that would exempt any private-sector employer that hires a worker who had been unemployed for at least 60 days from paying its 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax on that employee for the remainder of this year.
The legislation would also extend tax cuts for businesses that make large purchases and a state and local government loan program for businesses.
The bill would also extend the Surface Transportation Act, which Reid said would “save a million jobs.”
Reid promised that after taking up the smaller package, he would get to some of the other elements of the $85 billion Finance Committee package, which in addition to extending tax cuts, included reauthorization of the Patriot Act and the extension of benefits for the unemployed.
With Congress paralyzed by two snowstorms and scheduled for a recess next week, the Senate will not be able to vote on Reid's smaller job package until the week of Feb. 22 at the earliest. Reid had hoped to vote on a jobs bill this week.
Reid said the Senate could not simply cancel next week's recess.
“We have constituencies we have to take care of,” Reid said on the Senate floor after meeting privately with Democrats about the jobs package.
Reid's announcement of a smaller package caught Democrats and Republicans off guard and left some fearing that a rushed package would backfire.
Some Democrats left the closed-door meeting with Reid with the belief that a final bill was still undecided.
“There is a healthy debate going on as to whether there should be limited number of provisions or a broader package,” Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said he wants the jobs bill to include an extension of the tax cuts that were part of the Finance Committee package, which he said would eliminate some of the uncertainty holding back businesses. It would also invite more Republican support, he said.
But Carper said Democrats have become more unwilling to negotiate with Republicans out of fear they will ultimately withhold their support and “be more inclined to play rope-a-dope again.”
But Carper added, “My view is, let's test them.”