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House to vote on jobs bill this week
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives aims to pass legislation this week to create jobs and reduce the impact of the worst recession since the 1930s, Democratic leaders said on Tuesday.
One bill will include $48 billion for ready-to-go construction projects and $27 billion to cash-strapped states to keep teachers, police and other public-sector employees on the payroll. Another measure would help small businesses obtain loans and extend jobless benefits.
About half of the $150 billion price tag will be paid for with money from a $700 billion federal fund for bank bailouts approved by Congress last year.
"We make no apology whatsoever for trying to give the same amount of attention to Main Street needs as was given earlier to Wall Street needs," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey.
Democratic leaders predicted that the House would pass the legislation on Wednesday. While the safety-net measures could become law by next week, the Senate is not expected to consider the jobs package until next month at the earliest.
"It is legislation that brings jobs to Main Street by increasing credit for small businesses, by rebuilding the infrastructure of America, by keeping police and fireman and teachers on the job," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters.
House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer said monthly job losses have begun to decline but what is needed is job growth.
"We made progress, but we have not had success," Hoyer said, adding that the "Jobs for Main Street" legislation would deliver.
The jobs measures are tempered by concerns over record budget deficits and a logjam in the Senate, which is tied up with a proposed overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system.
Though the economy has begun to recover, voter anxiety remains 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.
Democrats aim to ultimately extend jobless benefits by six months, though they plan a quick two-month extension for now. Health-care subsidies for the jobless would be extended as well, and food-stamp programs would get an infusion of cash.
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.
Highway construction programs will get $27.5 billion, while transit programs will get $8.4 billion, said House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar.
The package provides $2 billion for upgrades to drinking-water systems and $2 billion for affordable housing, according to a summary provided by aides.
It provides $23 billion to help states pay teacher salaries and $2 billion for Americorps and other public jobs, as well as job training. It also would pay the salaries of 5,000 police officers.
Bailed-out banks will return $185 billion to the Troubled Asset Relief Program, according to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. But Congress will only be able to use $75 billion of that money for jobs due to budgeting rules, Hoyer said.
The jobs package will also include $24 billion to help states pay for health insurance for the poor, Obey said. Like the other safety-net provisions, it will not be paid for with TARP money.
The legislation would also extend loosened regulations on government-backed loans to small businesses, by eliminating fees and raising to 90 percent the amount of the loan backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
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.
(Additional reporting by Deborah Charles and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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