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Democrats Scramble to Draw GOP Support for Jobs Bill

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Dec. 24: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid walks with Sens. Christopher Dodd and Max Baucus after the Senate approved President Obama's health care bill on Capitol Hill. (Reuters)

Senate Democrats are working hard behind the scenes to draw Republican support for their first official jobs bill -- a struggle forced upon Democrats by the GOP upset in Massachusetts this month that snatched away their filibuster-proof majority.

Negotiations have been ongoing for weeks, as Democrats try to incorporate GOP ideas, like a popular package of tax extenders. 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., while not expected to tackle any legislation in his own committee, has been working to get the support of his committee's top Republican, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, as well as other committee Republicans, like Orrin Hatch of Utah. Hatch has joined fellow committee Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York in offering a jobs tax credit that is likely to be included in the bill, according to leadership sources.

Democrats are also working with the White House and Treasury Department to weave in some of the president's ideas mentioned in his State of the Union address this month.

"We want to extend credit lines to a lot of small businesses that have gotten bad news when they went to the local banks and give them some tax treatments that will encourage them to stay in business and expand," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Friday in Chicago.

Durbin also mentioned the possibility of energy efficiency making its way in some form into the first package, but some Democrats expressed doubt.

"We're not sure if it's going to be in this package or a later package,"a senior Senate Democratic leadership aide told Fox News. 

"This is a balancing act," the aide said, "We're trying to craft a package that can be described as noncontroversial enough to get through the Senate in relatively quick order."

But one thing certain to generate controversy is the way in which some Democrats want to see the first bill in the Democrats' "jobs agenda" paid for. The White House has proposed using $30 billion in TARP bailout funds to help small businesses. That move, which appears to require legislative action to change the purpose of the original TARP bill, would pay for a portion of what could be a nearly $100 billion package Democrats ultimately put together.

But Republicans are fiercely against the proposal.

"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," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, told reporters Thursday. By law, unused TARP funds and any returns coming back from the program are to be used to pay down the debt.

But Democrats see reason to hope, beyond the fact that some Republicans are working with them behind the scenes. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., does not appear to be actively opposing the measure, at least not yet.

The winter snowstorm hitting Washington is sure to hamper efforts to get a bill together and could delay Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's intention to have some kind of vote on Monday, likely procedural in nature, and his ultimate goal of finishing a bill by Friday, when the Senate is to take a weeklong President's Day recess.

The Democrats' first stimulus package was to create millions of jobs, but the persistently high jobless rate has them worried headed into a rough midterm election year. As the nation recovers, albeit slowly, from a recession, this lagging indicator is not expected to change much, but Democrats are determined to show they are doing all they can.

So it was not surprising when the White House hit back hard when the Senate's newest freshman bashed the effects of the stimulus bill -- a move that surely hit a high note with conservatives.

"The last stimulus bill didn't create one new job," Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts boldly stated on his first day on the job. "And in some states the money that was actually released hasn't even been used yet."

Brown said not one job had been created in his home state, but a spokesman for Vice President Biden, the point man in the White House for the stimulus program and its most ardent defender, disputed that.

"The Recovery Act has saved or created 53,00 total jobs in Massachusetts," Biden spokesman Jay Carney said. 

When Democrats do finally bring their bill to the floor, bypassing the committee process, some Republicans are waiting with a range of controversial ideas that could form the basis of amendments. 

On Friday, a group led by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Reid taking aim at what they see as a lack of enforcement of the nation's immigration laws, thereby resulting in a loss of jobs for American citizens.

"The statistics are sobering," the senators told Reid. "Currently 15.3 million Americans are officially unemployed. If one adds the number of Americans who are underemployed, what the Department of Labor calls the U-6 unemployment rate, that number jumps to 26.5 million. Meanwhile, there are between 7 and 8 million illegal aliens in the U.S. labor market, many of whom have only recently entered the country."

The senators noted that arrests are dramatically down and that "by taking certain steps to improve our immigration laws, we believe that Congress can help the American worker at little to no cost to the American taxpayer." 

These steps include: more enforcement; permanently reauthorizing E-Verify; allowing employers to use E-Verify to verify the work authorization of current employees; and increasing penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.

Still, other Republicans have said they could offer amendments that include a constitutional balanced budget mandate and a one-year moratorium on earmarks -- a proposal first offered by  Obama when he was a senator.

Democrats are likely to forbid any amendments that are not relevant to job creation, like an amendment that bans funds for trying Sept. 11 terror suspects in civilian court.