Mass. Republican Senator is sworn in, Democrats regroup
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and congressional Democratic leaders sought to reset their agenda as they lost their 60th vote in the Senate on Thursday, trying to push ahead with measures to spur job creation even as they grasped for ideas to keep alive their health care legislation.
On the day Scott Brown of Massachusetts was sworn in as the 41st Republican senator, Democrats offered only the bare outlines of their approach to jobs legislation and met at the White House to hash out a strategy for their agenda.
The core of the proposal will probably be a payroll tax break for employers who hire workers who have been without jobs for at least 60 days. Democrats are trying to enlist Republican support for that approach, which was proposed most recently by Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah.
Democrats were hoping that the support of at least a few Republicans could build momentum behind a bill now that they no longer have the 60 votes that allowed them to break Republican filibusters solely from within the Democratic ranks.
Negotiators on the Senate Finance Committee were said to be nearing an agreement on the core components of a jobs package, including the payroll tax relief and an extension of a portfolio of existing tax breaks, including incentives for research and development.
But a deal remained elusive on Thursday evening as senators tried to work out details including how to pay for the jobs proposal. Democrats were also pushing to include an extension of unemployment benefits and of health care coverage for those out of work. Discussions were also under way about potentially attaching other initiatives, including a provision to prevent a steep cut in Medicare payment rates for doctors and a reauthorization of money for highway repairs.
The majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said that the Senate would move forward with a jobs package on Monday with or without bipartisan agreement but that he was hoping for cooperation.