Weeks after Senate Majority Leader Reid pulled a broad jobs package in part because it was seen as including deals for special interests, the Senate this week will vote on a bill that will allow passage of most of that original package, including business tax breaks and special state funding.
If the $150 billion measure passes this week, the Senate will have approved in two pieces an expanded version of a measure introduced last month by Finance Chairman Max Baucus and ranking member Chuck Grassley. Reid discarded that bill, arguing that some provisions, including dozens of expired tax breaks for business, amounted to special deals for "fat cats."
But the bill on the floor this week includes the same extensions of the tax breaks the Finance bill contained. It also contains long-term extensions of provisions that expired Sunday, including unemployment insurance, COBRA healthcare subsidies for laid-off workers and a fix preventing physicians from a 21 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements.
The Senate Finance Committee was expected to release a copy of the bill this afternoon. According to a draft circulated last week, it contains farm disaster aid sought by Senate Agricultural Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln and others.
That aid package sets aside $21 million for sugarcane growers in Hawaii and a $75 million bailout for chicken farmers affected by the 2008 bankruptcy of a poultry company.
The sugar money would be made available to the Hawaii Transportation Cooperative to allocate in a commodity loan program for sugar growers.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other earmark critics have previously faulted similar set-asides for Hawaii sugar growers secured by Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye, arguing the money was included in aid packages for disasters that did not affect Hawaii.
A spokesman for Inouye defended the earmark.
"The sugar business may be moving out of the islands, but these companies still control large portions of prime agricultural land," the spokesman said. "It is in the best interest of the community that we provide for these firms as they reinvent their business model to account for Hawaii's current economic climate."
The bill also sets aside $75 million for "no-interest emergency loans" to chicken farmers who had contracts canceled due to the bankruptcy filing by Pilgrim's Pride in December 2008.
Lincoln, who faces a potentially difficult re-election fight, has told chicken farmers that she was working to convince the Agriculture Department to buy out loans of producers harmed by the shutdown of the processing facility.
Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders still hope to put a $15 billion jobs package on the floor this week, as they continue talks with members of the Blue Dog Coalition seeking an offset of the cost of the bill and the Congressional Black Caucus and others who would prefer a larger jobs measure, according to a senior House Democratic aide.
Democratic leaders are working with the Blue Dogs to find an offset for the cost of the measure, which CBO put at about $12 billion over five years and $2 billion over 10 years.
Failure to find an offset would require the House to waive its pay/go rule, a move that Blue Dogs are not inclined to support.
This article appears in the March 6, 2010 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.