Job bill gets joint effort
President works with lawmakers to spur economy
WASHINGTON – In a rare move toward bipartisanship, Senate Democrats worked with Republicans as they prepared Tuesday to unveil an $85 billion jobs bill that would include payroll tax breaks for employers who create new jobs, aid to small businesses and other GOP-backed ideas to attack unemployment.
After more than a year of relentlessly partisan conflict in which Republicans complained of being excluded from drafting the health care bill and Democrats denounced them as the “Party of No,” senior members of both parties were working to blend their ideas on an issue voters seem to care far more about – jobs and job security.
Outlines of the bill emerged as President Barack Obama spent more than two hours meeting with congressional leaders in an effort to coax green shoots of bipartisanship even as the capital braced for another paralyzing winter storm.
The president said both parties must be prepared to compromise, regaining a sense of purpose that transcends petty politics as they tackle unemployment and other major issues.
“Bipartisanship depends on a willingness among both Democrats and Republicans to put aside matters of party for the good of the country,” Obama said. “I won’t hesitate to embrace a good idea from my friends in the minority party, but I also won’t hesitate to condemn what I consider to be obstinacy that’s rooted not in substantive disagreements, but in political expedience.”
How long even symbolic gestures of bipartisanship would last was unclear.
Both parties are still approaching each other warily. That was illustrated when House Republican leaders Monday sent a blistering letter to the White House that threatened to torpedo Obama’s proposed health care summit on Feb. 25. On Tuesday, Obama fired back at Republicans blocking his nominees to federal positions, saying he would use a procedural tactic to bypass the legislators.
Still, even an approach to seeking common ground was notable, especially in the Senate, where Republicans had appeared to be reveling in their new-found power to torpedo Democratic initiatives.
Democrats embraced some GOP-backed ideas, including new help for small businesses, which in the past have led the way back toward recovering lost jobs.
According to a draft outline of the bill circulated by Senate Democrats, the cornerstone of the bill would be a proposal to give businesses that hire unemployed workers this year an exemption from the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax. If they keep those new employees more than a year, employers would get an additional $1,000 tax credit.
Other provisions of the bill are, for the most part, expansions or extensions of existing policies. The tax break for new equipment purchases by small businesses would be increased. The bill expands the Build America Bonds program, which subsidizes interest costs for state and local bonds issue to finance infrastructure projects. It extends until May 31 unemployment payments and health care subsidies for the jobless.
Not long after emerging from the meeting, Obama unexpectedly took over his press secretary’s daily briefing, where he declared that he can set aside some Democratic “preferences” on some issues but warned that Republicans would have to make sacrifices, too.
“What I won’t consider,” Obama said, “is doing nothing in the face of a lot of hardship across the country.”