WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Democratic leaders unveiled a long-awaited “jobs agenda” on Thursday but said they would solicit Republican support before determining which elements to bring up for a vote next week.
With a nervous eye on the November congressional elections, Democrats say their top priority this year will be bringing down the nation’s double-digit unemployment rate.
But with their supermajority gone after a surprise defeat in Massachusetts last month, Senate Democrats need at least some Republican support to get any of their ideas passed.
“We want to work with Republicans, and it appears to me on the jobs program that they want to work with us,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said at a news conference.
The unemployment rate currently stands at 10 percent, down slightly after reaching a 26-year high. The pace of job losses has slowed but new data released on Thursday suggested recovery will be slow.
Though Democrats are eager to show voters they are taking action, they also face a growing backlash over the aggressive measures they took last year to blunt the impact of the worst recession in 70 years.
They intend to advance their jobs proposals in the Senate through a series of smaller bills, to avoid the sticker shock of the $155 billion jobs package passed by the House of Representatives in December.
The first of these will come up for debate on Monday with the goal of passing it by the end of the week, Reid said.
An aide suggested on Wednesday that it could include hiring and investment incentives for small businesses and help for construction projects underwritten by state and local governments.
As of late Thursday, the shape of the bill was less certain as Democrats sought Republican cooperation, several aides said.
Republicans have been unified in opposition to many key issues, including healthcare reform and increasing the nation’s borrowing capacity.
Senator Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the tax-writing Finance Committee, is working on tax incentives with Democrat Max Baucus, according to an aide.
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch has teamed up with Democrat Charles Schumer to offer a tax credit to encourage small-business hiring, which could be included in the package.
Among the items on Senate Democrats’ jobs agenda:
* Tax credits to encourage small businesses to hire employees and buy new equipment
* Money to encourage construction projects by state and local governments
* Extending healthcare subsidies and unemployment payments for the jobless
* Incentives to weatherize buildings
* Aid to cash-strapped state and local governments to avoid further layoffs of teachers and other public employees.
Editing by Alan Elsner