Washington Watch - January 22, 2010

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Washington Watch - January 22, 2010

Will You Be Hiring This Year?

One of the reminders of our sluggish economy is the current number of unemployed Americans. As unemployment remains high, Congress and the Obama Administration are focusing their attention on job creation. Small business is front and center in this debate as lawmakers hope to encourage this important business demographic to expand and hire new employees in 2010.

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Senate Democratic Leaders Shift Focus To Economy

Recognizing the concern of many Americans at the high unemployment rate and lagging economy, Senate Democratic leaders are attempting to shift focus from health care to the economy.

Congressional leaders and members of the administration have been working to find a compromise on the health bill that would be acceptable to both chambers. Sending a final health care bill to President Obama, ideally before the State of the Union address on Jan. 27, remains a top Democratic priority.

Senate leaders are also intent on taking up a jobs-related package and other efforts to improve the economy before the President's Day recess that is scheduled to begin Feb. 12. Amid 10 percent unemployment and public concern over federal spending, Senate Democrats are expected to begin drafting a version of legislation aimed at creating jobs. The House narrowly passed its version of the legislation (H.R. 2847) in December.

The Senate bill is expected to include tax breaks and loans to help accelerate small-business hiring, money for infrastructure upgrades and incentives for consumers to make their homes more energy efficient – all administration priorities. The bill will also likely include money to help state and local governments keep teachers, law enforcement officials and other public sector employees on payroll.

Passage of this economic legislation will not be an easy road for Democratic leadership as moderate Democrats are not expected to flock to a package that could be criticized as more spending, House leaders are pushing the Senate to agree to a measure (H.R. 2920) to put pay-as-you-go budget rules into law and Senate must first begin debate on the potentially divisive issue of raising the debt limit before moving to the jobs package.

MA Results Leave Dems Pondering Health Bill Options

After the surprise win by Republican state senator Scott Brown in a special election to fill the Massachusetts seat previously occupied by the late Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Democrats in Congress are scrambling to salvage a bill overhauling the nation’s health care system.

Brown has vowed to oppose the bill, and once he takes office the Democrats will no longer control the 60 votes in the Senate needed to overcome filibusters. Although top officials have suggested that the House accepting the Senate-passed plan is the party’s best option, several lawmakers indicated the House would not simply adopt the $871 billion measure passed by the Senate.

While lawmakers have various options to complete action on a health care overhaul bill, anything other than the House passing the Senate bill would require a complex series of actions. One option would be to continue negotiations on a bicameral compromise bill between the House (H.R. 3962) and Senate (H.R. 3590) bills. This measure could be considered under budgetary reconciliation rules, which could allow for speedy passage of the bill through the Senate.

A second measure including various revenue-related changes could be considered separately under fast-track budget reconciliation rules. The second bill, combined with House approval of the Senate health bill, could complete action on the overhaul without another vote in the Senate requiring a 60-vote majority, as reconciliation measures only require a simple 51-vote majority.

Alternatively, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has said that a compromise measure could be pushed through both chambers in 15 days, before Brown is seated. Rep. Hoyer confirmed this week that it is feasible for Democrats to wrap work on the package before the deadline for the Massachusetts secretary of state to certify the election results. However, Rep. Hoyer’s plan assumes that all Democrats (and one House Republican) who voted for the House bill would also vote for a compromise bill.

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