Democrats in Congress are racing against the clock to renew unemployment benefits for hundreds of thousands of jobless Americans, in legislation that also raises taxes on investment fund managers and multinational companies.
With the benefits to expire at the end of this month, pushback from fiscally conservative Democrats concerned about the bill's new taxes and cost, as well as from Republicans, has delayed a vote on a White House-backed $134 billion bill.
Some House Democrats also are reluctant to vote on the bill that still may not have enough backing to pass the Senate, according to congressional sources.
The House could vote on the measure on Wednesday at the earliest, leaving little time for the Senate to act before the benefits expire.
House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer said he expected the chamber will pass the measure later this week. I think we'll have the votes, Hoyer said at a news conference. Pressed for a clarification, he said: We'll have the votes.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sandy Levin told reporters he was not likely to scale back the cost of the bill to allay concerns about its effect on the federal deficit.
It's up to this institution to step up to the plate, knowing that issues today aren't easy, Levin said, speaking on a conference call.
OBAMA MEETS WITH REPUBLICANS
The measure's prospects appeared less certain in the Senate. President Barack Obama met on Tuesday with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill in a bid to pick up at least a few of their votes. Republicans have almost unanimously opposed Democrats' other job-creation measures.
The bill pairs unemployment benefits, construction incentives and other job-creation measures with a politically popular package of tax breaks, such as a credit for research and development costs, that expired at the end of last year.
One of the most controversial aspects of the bill increases taxes on fund managers in private equity and other firms from the current 15 percent to at least 35 percent.
Private equity and real estate interests are lobbying heavily to kill that part of the bill, which raises about $20 billion over a decade.
The legislation also tightens tax rules for multinational companies and oil companies in particular.
The bill's $174 billion in new spending is offset by $40 billion in new taxes, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Jobless benefits, COBRA health subsidies for the unemployed and health-care subsidies to states account for $79 billion in spending.
Senate Republicans have delayed similar bills several times this year on the grounds that they should not add to the budget deficit. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he might keep the chamber in session through the weekend ahead of Monday's Memorial Day holiday to pass the bill.
The U.S. government posted a record $1.4 trillion budget deficit last fiscal year and could exceed that figure this year as the country digs out from the worst recession since the 1930s.
Democrats say last year's $863 billion stimulus package has created millions of jobs and helped keep the 9.9 percent unemployment rate from rising higher.
But with voter concerns about federal spending on the rise ahead of the November congressional elections, lawmakers have shown little appetite for another ambitious jobs package.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)