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Baucus And Grassley Swoop In On Senate Jobs Bill

Perhaps in an effort to take all the credit for the spectacular implosion of Democratic Party favorability ratings in 2009-10, Max Baucus has bigfooted in on the Senate’s jobs bill, and drafted his own version of the Senate jobs bill with Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

A bit of backstory to this tale. The House passed a modest but generally decent $154 billion jobs bill in December. At that point, Senate Democrats started using the phrase “jobs jobs jobs” in every other sentence, and tasked Dick Durbin and Byron Dorgan to come up with their own version of the legislation. Then Scott Brown descended from the heavens, and suddenly the bill had to be bipartisan, because spending money that impacts the federal budget could never be enacted through budget reconciliation. Chuck Schumer got Orrin Hatch to come aboard a bill that foregrounded a job creation tax credit, and it looked like the Democrats were on their way to getting something, albeit far more modest, across the line. Then Max Baucus jumped in and claimed jurisdiction over the legislation because taxes were included, and he dropped his own bill. And let’s see what he’s bargained away. From the joint Baucus/Grassley statement:

“The package includes matters within the Finance Committee’s jurisdiction and matters outside its jurisdiction.  The Finance Committee proposals are the result of several weeks of staff and member consultation.  We believe they reflect a balanced set of member views and priorities.  We do not express a view on the proposals that are outside the Finance Committee’s jurisdiction.  ??

“In addition, while not addressed in the proposals in this package, there are two process agreements that are essential to completing action on it.  Fulfilling these agreements has been a condition precedent to the bipartisan discussions that have occurred. First we will work to ensure that the scope of the Finance Committee package retains its bipartisan character.  Second we are committed to timely consideration of permanent bipartisan estate and gift tax reform.

Excuse me? So Baucus and Grassley not only presumed that they own the jobs bill entirely, but they then attached two unrelated promises to move on Republican-authored changes to the estate and gift tax. We know that changing the estate tax to the liking of Grassley and Baucus would cost a minimum of $233 billion dollars over 10 years. The gift tax changes would cost many billions more. But the jobs bill itself only costs $80 billion and is fully paid for. As Ezra Klein says, “this is the compromise that appears to have led to this package: not a better or bigger or more tax-focused jobs bill, but massive tax cuts for the rich.”

What’s in the bill, called the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act, itself? It hardly matters, because it’s mainly the same things that were in the jobs bill being tossed around in the Senate. They have the Schumer-Hatch job creation tax credit that would exempt payroll taxes for every worker hired in 2010. They have the write-off for small business capital expenditures. They have the build-up of the Build America Bonds to encourage infrastructure spending. They would extend the Highway Trust Fund through some accounting maneuvering. They have the tax extenders. They extend unemployment insurance and the COBRA subsidy for three months. They include a seven-month extension of the Medicare “doc fix.” And the Patriot Act extension. And disaster relief. And some other Christmas tree ornaments. And the same offsets, including the “black liquor” alternative fuel credit exclusion and the different treatment of foreign tax shelters.

Everything I just mentioned above was already in the Durbin/Dorgan draft and other drafts already released. In other words, Baucus and Grassley stole the bill, changed the names at the top, and held it hostage until the Senate gives away hundreds of billions of dollars to rich people.

About the only additional piece I see in there is a bit for pension funding relief, which would be useful:

The provision would provide temporary, targeted funding relief for single employer and multiemployer pension plans that suffered significant losses in asset value due to the steep market slide in 2008.  The pension funding provisions raise about $6 billion over ten years.

That’s not enough to throw away hundreds of billions of dollars of estate and gift tax “reform,” however.

What does the White House think of all this? They’re loving it!

“The President is gratified to see the Senate moving forward in a bipartisan manner on steps to help put Americans back to work. The draft bill released today by Senators Baucus and Grassley includes several of the President’s top priorities for job creation, including a tax incentive to encourage businesses to hire, a tax cut to make it easier for small businesses to invest and expand, further measures to keep people at work repairing our nation’s roads and bridges, and extended unemployment insurance and health care assistance for Americans who are out of work.

“The American people want to see Washington put aside partisan differences and make progress on jobs. The House has already passed a constructive set of measures and the President is hopeful that the draft language presented today will lead to a bipartisan Senate bill. The President looks forward to working with members from both parties on this bill and on the additional job creation measures he has identified, including incentives for energy efficiency investments and increased access to credit for small businesses.”

They just want a W.

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David Dayen

David Dayen