WASHINGTON The House of Representatives aims to pass job-creating legislation before the end of the year to ease double-digit unemployment levels that threaten the economic recovery, Democratic leaders said on Tuesday.
Top lawmakers are looking at a variety of options, including road construction, tax breaks and assistance to hard-pressed state governments which could create jobs but also worsen budget deficits in the short term, said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
"We're moving ahead at a pace that hopefully will allow us to do something in the next three weeks," the Maryland Democrat said at a news conference.
Some of these programs could be funded by a transaction tax on Wall Street, or money left over from the financial-industry rescue package, said the House's No. 4 Democrat, Representative John Larson.
Democrats are under pressure to bring down the 10.2 percent unemployment rate, at the highest level since 1983, before the November 2010 elections. Unemployment is expected to remain high into next year even as the economy picks up, a factor that economists say could threaten the fragile recovery.
President Barack Obama plans a December 3 forum on job creation with business leaders at the White House and a cross-country tour to highlight Democratic efforts to boost the economy.
White House officials have said they might use some of the $210 billion left in the bank-bailout fund for small-business loans and assistance to debt-burdened families.
Any jobs bill will likely faces tougher prospects in the Senate, where Republicans have greater power to oppose legislation. The Senate's schedule for the remainder of the year is likely to be dominated by an overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system and spending bills needed to keep the government running.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will take up a jobs bill after healthcare passes, spokesman Jim Manley said.
"Although we believe passing healthcare will help our economy over the long haul, we feel we need to do something that will provide a more immediate boost," Manley said.
Others in the Senate expressed limited enthusiasm.
"I think we've got to be really careful in thinking we can spend government money to get us out of recession," said Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, who called for low-interest loans for small businesses.
Economists say a $787 billion stimulus bill passed in February has helped ease the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, but Republicans have criticized it as an expensive boondoggle that has not created enough jobs.
Democrats also face mounting public concern over the federal budget deficit, which hit a record $1.4 trillion for the fiscal year ended September 30.
The jobs bill will likely worsen the deficit in the short term, Hoyer said, but would pay off in the long run as more people go back to work and the economy improves. He said it was too soon to estimate the bill's cost.
Since the stimulus bill was passed, Democrats have taken a few other steps to boost the economy, such as broadening tax credits for homebuyers and businesses. But they have been careful to avoid terming their efforts as a "second stimulus."
"I don't want it to be as broad as that. I want it targeted on jobs," Hoyer said.
AMONG THE ITEMS UNDER CONSIDERATION
* A transportation bill that could cost up to $500 billion
* A tax credit for businesses that create jobs
* Assistance to state governments, which otherwise would lay off teachers, police and other employees as they cope with plunging tax revenues and rising social spending
* Low-interest loans for small businesses
* Another extension of unemployment benefits, which otherwise could run out for millions of jobless workers
* An extension of health-insurance subsidies for the jobless
* A transaction tax on over-the-counter trades in unregulated "dark markets"
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Thomas Ferraro and Donna Smith; editing by Philip Barbara and Todd Eastham)