Tuesday, December 15, 2009

U.S. House of Representatives Seeks To Pass Omnibus 2/2 This Wednesday

The bill will include money for ready-to-go highway construction projects and aid to cash-strapped states so they will not have to lay off teachers, police and other public-sector employee, Hoyer said at his weekly news conference.

The $75 billion cost will be covered by money left over from the government's $700 billion bank bailout, Hoyer said.

The House also plans to extend several federal safety-net programs, such as unemployment insurance and food stamps, to help those struggling with the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, Hoyer said.

The House could pass both measures as early as Wednesday, a Democratic aide said.

The jobs measures that Democrats hope to pass in the crush of year-end legislation are significantly scaled back from what they had discussed earlier, tempered by concerns over spending and how measures will play in the Senate.

Though the economy has begun to recover, voter anxiety remains high and the unemployment rate is expected to stay stubbornly high into next year.

President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats hope to bring down the 10 percent unemployment rate before the November 2010 congressional elections, but do not want to give further ammunition to Republicans who say spending is out of control.

They also must contend with the Senate, which is occupied with an overhaul of the country's health-care system.


Democrats aim to extend unemployment benefits by two months, Hoyer said, rather than the six months that were discussed last week. Health-care subsidies for the jobless will get a two-month extension, and food-stamp programs will get an infusion of cash, he said.

Those extensions will be combined with a $630 billion military-spending bill. Considered must-pass legislation, the defense bill could be signed into law by Obama next week.

The money for "shovel ready" infrastructure projects and for cash-strapped states will come up for a vote separately, and the Senate is not expected to take it up until January.

Though bailed-out banks will return $185 billion to the Troubled Asset Relief Program, according to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Congress will only be able to use roughly $75 billion of that money due to complex budgeting rules, Hoyer said.

"It's in the neighborhood of $75 billion, less than $75 billion. That, as you know, is the TARP money that is available," Hoyer explained.

That's a much smaller figure than the $200 billion that House Democrats mentioned last week.

Hoyer did not mention two job-creating approaches backed by Obama: boosting lending to small businesses, and creating incentives to make buildings more energy efficient.

Lawmakers also removed roughly $5 billion for conservation programs from the jobs package, a Democratic aide said.

Both the state aid and the infrastructure spending would continue programs started in the $787 billion stimulus package passed in February. Many states warn that their budgets will "fall off a cliff" when the money from that package runs out.
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