Sunday, January 9, 2011; 9:11 PM
By Ben Pershing House Democrats are increasingly likely to move a jobs bill next week, firming up the details of a package that would cost roughly $70 billion and include spending for infrastructure projects and benefits for the poor and unemployed. The jobs package would move as an attachment to the defense appropriations bill, which will also serve as the vehicle for other unpassed legislation. Talks are underway between the House, Senate and White House to attach a federal debt limit increase of at least $1.8 trillion to the measure. The exact combination of add-ons is not yet clear, but the inclusion of a jobs component is becoming more certain, according to lawmakers and aides. "We're very determined to have a targeted jobs program as part of this bill," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the party leadership. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also said Friday that there would be a jobs measure, but did not provide many specifics. The package Democrats are crafting would definitely include funding for increased unemployment benefits, COBRA health insurance, food stamps and Medicaid. It will likely also include as much as $50 billion for infrastructure projects, and a separate pool of money to help states and local governments avoid laying off vital personnel like teachers, police and firefighters. Until recent days, some Democrats at both ends of the Capitol were skeptical that a substantive jobs package could move this year, given that the Senate is likely to spend several more days on health care. But the Senate has now halted the health debate to take up an omnibus spending bill, raising hopes that the chamber may have time later in December to deal with the defense bill and its attachments. At the very least, House Democrats believe, it's worth passing a jobs measure now, even if Senate can't take it up until January, so that lawmakers could go home for Christmas telling their constituents that they've gotten something done. Even if a jobs bill does become law this month, that would not preclude Congress from coming back at the issue to pass another jobs package in early 2010. The Obama administration is considering ways to funnel money from the financial bailout program to help small businesses, though the Treasury Department may be able to do that without any additional legislation from Congress.