The fate of the Democrats' jobs bill in the Senate, the $15 billion Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act, remains unclear, as each side of the aisle decides how to move forward.
A senior Senate Democratic leadership aide told Fox Wednesday that there do not appear to be 60 votes for cloture, which breaks a filibuster, but it is early, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, has dispatched a number of his top Democrats to make the case to reporters. Wednesday, it was Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, with leaders from the transportation sector. Thursday, it's Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and Jack Reed, D-RI, with Mark Zandi, a favored economist with Democrats these days who worked for Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign.
The surprise move by Reid last week to jettison a popular bipartisan bill crafted by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT, and top committee Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, provoked bipartisan head-scratching, even a bit of outrage, and has pushed Reid to seek out the support of the Senate's newest Republican, Scott Brown of Massachusetts. According to a Reid spokesman, the leader called Brown to talk about the bill.
Conservative Democrat Blanche Lincoln, D-AR, in a tough re-election battle this year, blasted Reid's move in a statement, saying, "When it comes to jobs and the economy, we need bipartisan consensus to move our country forward."
Those sentiments were echoed even more strongly this week by Sen. Evan Bayh, D-IN, when he announced his surprise retirement from the Senate, in part because of the partisan move on the jobs bill.
"There’s too much partisanship and not enough progress - too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving. Even in a time of enormous challenge, the people’s business is not being done,” Bayh said, scolding colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
Still, Bayh spokesman Eric Kleiman did not rule out the possibility the senator would support the Reid bill, saying, "(Bayh) needs to see what’s in the final bill. He does believe it’s important to strive for bipartisan support on the bill."
Already, one Republican, who co-authored the new hire tax cut in the Reid bill, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, has said he will oppose it next week when it comes up for a vote, and it is clear that many, if not most, Republicans are likely to join him, this according to several senior Senate GOP aides.
"Since the Massachusetts election, I doubt there are 60 senators in the United States Senate who will blatantly ignore the American people's persistent call for bipartisanship and vote for cloture," Hatch told the Wall Street Journal. "The majority leadership still has time to prove they are serious, reverse course and work with us to deliver a bipartisan jobs bill all Americans can be proud of."
A Reid spokesman tells Fox that the leader has not changed his mind on allowing amendments to the bill, but it is clear Reid intends to allow more popular tax provisions in successive jobs bill. Still, that is not likely to pacify Republicans.
One senior Senate GOP leadership aide tells Fox that Republicans are likely to highlight amendments that they would have offered, had Reid not closed off the bill. These amendments would likely include an extension of popular tax cuts for research and development, as well as energy tax credits, according to the GOP aide.
The $15 billion Reid bill includes a $13 billion exemption from Social Security payroll taxes for every worker hired in 2010 that has been unemployed for at least 60 days; $35 million for small business depreciation; $2 billion for "Build America Bonds" for infrastructure; and a one-year extension of the highway bill, which one senior Senate Democratic aide told Fox News would have "no revenue effect."
But Republicans took strong exception to the later claim. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-NH, a fiscal hawk, released a statement last week blasting the move.
"I want to warn my colleagues not to be distracted by those who call this draft legislation a 'jobs' bill, because the reality is that this plan doesn't create more jobs, just more government and more debt," Gregg said. "A perfect example is the highway extension plan, which transfers $47 billion from the Treasury's General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund over the next 10 years, adding to the nation's debt burden. In 2010 alone, a $19.5 billion transfer will instantly increase the federal debt by that amount. The Highway Trust Fund is insolvent, and instead of attempting to fix the problem, this draft bill would simply kick the can down the road and ask our children to pay for these transfers, with interest."
Boxer, on the conference call Wednesday with reporters, staunchly defended the Reid bill and took great exception with Gregg's comments, while admitting that the money will have to be repaid eventually.
Boxer, nevertheless, argued that the transportation sector needs help now, and said, "I have a hard time understanding how Sen. Gregg would want to see more pink slips for an industry" that's facing massive layoffs.
"If this HIRE Act is not passed...we'll see thousands of projects grind to a halt and thousands of jobs lost," William Millar, President, American Public Transportation Association, warned, underscoring Boxer's point.
John Horsley, Executive Director, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, touted the "Build America Bonds" as a "great program" that has been a true job creator across the nation.
Boxer emphasized that Reid was "just breaking (the jobs agenda) down into smaller pieces" and said that provisions "including clean energy, (more) support for small business, and additional infrastructure provisions" would be included in later bills this year.
Still, Reid must come up with 60 votes, and it is too early to tell if he will be able to do it, but the signs do not appear to be good.
"I just don't get it," a second senior Senate GOP leadership aide told Fox, "Reid is literally snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory, here."