Democrats Close to Vote on Jobs Package Without Bill in Hand

Senate Democrats are holding a news conference Thursday on a jobs bill without an actual jobs bill, an apparent sign that the Massachusetts Senate vote that is bringing Scott Brown to Washington is still reverberating through the U.S. Capitol.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday that he plans to introduce a bill as early as Thursday, and there will be some kind of first vote on Monday.

The bill Democrats hope to introduce is expected to contain the following, though there could be some change, if Republicans are brought on board:

-- A job creation tax credit -- the likely contender is a tax break for businesses that hire new workers proposed by Sens Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and Orrin Hatch, R-UT.

-- Small business investment depreciation -- help for small businesses to write off some of their expenses.

-- A one-year highway bill extension (called the Surface Transportation Act)

-- A "Build America" bonds --- funds for infrastructure at the state and local level.

-- Unemployment insurance extension and an extension of COBRA benefits.

The cost of the bill is still not known, though it is expected to come in under $100 billion, according to Democratic sources. 

A senior Democratic leadership aide said that Democratic leaders are trying to get some Republican support and are "close to a deal". The aide said the Thursday event was a presentation of ideas that Democrats want to see in a bill. 

A senior GOP leadership aide did not dispute the possibility of bipartisan support, but the aide expressed frustration with the way Democrats are already going about it -- announcing a floor schedule for votes, before they even have a bill, which likely leaves out consideration of the bill by Senate committees.

Still under negotiation and likely to cause much contention is just how this bill will be paid. Many Democrats, especially following GOP Sen.-elect Brown's win in the Bay State, are very worried about a record deficit.

Democrats have said they'd like to see money -- possibly as much as $30 billion -- taken from the Wall Street bailout fund, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, but Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain has already balked about that. 

"It's against the law to pay for it out of TARP. It's an outrage and an insult. We were assured when the TARP was passed that that money would simply go to stabilize the financial institution in America -- and would be spent for no other reason," McCain told reporters. 

By law, unused TARP funds and any returns coming back from the program are to be used to pay down the debt.

Still, while there is disagreement on how to find revenue to offset the cost of any jobs bill, agreement seems to be forming that any bill must contain help for small businesses.

McCain mentioned "incentives for small businesses" when asked what he would want to see in a bill, and he included a small business payroll tax moratorium, something left over from his 2008 presidential campaign.

One sticking point during debate could come in the amendments process.

McCain, joined by Sens. Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and George LeMieux of Florida, introduced two bills Thursday that could become amendments to the jobs bill. One is a piece of legislation co-sponsored by President Obama when he was a senator -- a moratorium on earmarks for one year. This failed a number of years ago in the Senate. 

The other proposal is a revival of the constitutional balanced budget amendment.

"I'd like to see a jobs package in the context of a balanced budget amendment," DeMint said.

Graham has an even more controversial, bipartisan amendment that he has said he intends to offer, one that would shut off all funds for federal, civilian trials for the Sept. 11 co-conspirators.

A senior Democratic leadership aide asked, "What does that have to do with jobs?" And the aide added, "Amendments that are off subject -- that's where we'll probably draw the line."