The Week Ahead in Congress: Obama Brings Jobs Bill to Hill

John Boehner

Last week, President Obama and Congressional Republicans took some tenuous steps along the path of legislative peace, vowing to work together to try and tackle the country’s stubborn unemployment problem. Some hints of whether or not they can pull that off will surface this week.

Mr. Obama has said he will bring legislative language to the Hill on Monday, the underpinning of the $447 billion package of tax cuts and spending programs he described in a jobs speech to a joint session of Congress last Thursday.

House Republicans, leery of their growing image problem, have said they will be more than happy to look at the president’s ideas — which include a payroll tax cut for employees and small businesses and a stimulus-like infrastructure program — but they want the costs and savings evaluated by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and an explanation of how some programs will be paid for. House Republicans would like all of his ideas to wind through the usual committee process, where their potential alternatives can also be pondered.

In a further test of bipartisan potential, the Senate is set to vote early this week on a bill to provide at least $6 billion in disaster assistance for victims of this summer’s hurricane and tornadoes, having removed that spending item from its usual vehicle, an appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security.

A few weeks ago, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia indicated that any disaster relief would have to be offset by some other budget cuts; he seemed to back away slightly from that position at the end of last week, as the peace blossoms were blooming, but that bill could still be a target for controversy as it hits both chambers.

Also this week look for the conclusion to two other knotty problems – the potential shutdown of federal highway and aviation programs. Republicans said late Friday night that they had crafted an agreement that cleared the way for a bill that would extend the operating authority for the Federal Aviation Administration through the end of the year, and a similar funding framework for highway and transit programs through the end of March.

The bills were held up in part because Republicans were insisting on spending cuts as provisions in the bills, which seem to have gone away, and because Senate Democrats were resisting short-term solutions and other potential provisions in both bills. Both were set to expire soon, and result in the layoffs of thousands of federal employees. This summer, the F.A.A. endured a partial shutdown over the partisan disputes concerning the potential spending cuts, funding for rural airports and labor issues.

Speaker John A. Boehner will offer a rejoinder of sorts to President Obama this Thursday in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington, before the city’s Economic Club. Mr. Boehner is expected to take a dim view of many elements of Mr. Obama’s plan in his speech, and address what he views as the growing crisis of confidence among American employers. Mr. Boehner is expected to discuss the role of the bipartisan Congressional committee charged with finding $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions – which has already shown some growing pains, as Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona indicated last week that he would quit the committee before making cuts to the Pentagon – and will discuss the role of both parties in the months ahead and their potential to work less contentiously.

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