As health bill battle rages, Dems try to squeeze in jobs plan 

While health care remains the primary worry for Congress in the waning weeks of the session, lawmakers are also to pass the controversial plan and still have time to shift gears to job creation.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he plans to clear the deck after health care passes to take up a jobs creation bill. But since Reid's health care bill has yet to emerge and the Senate is little more than a month away from closing up shop for the year, it may be a tall order.

The House is already weighing a number of options to stimulate the economy, including targeted tax cuts and extending government loans to small businesses, according to senior Democratic aides.

Reid has not announced what kind of jobs bill he'll put forward, but he plans to take it up "as soon as possible" after passing health care reform.

"Although we believe passing health care will help our economy over the long haul, we feel we need to do something that will provide a more immediate boost," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said.

Reid is considering, among other options, a bill by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., that would aim to avert layoffs by providing unemployment benefits to workers whose hours are reduced.

Reid announced his plans to take up a jobs bill in a closed-door meeting with Democrats a week after the Nov. 3 election that handed Republicans victories in the New Jersey and Virginia governors' races.

In exit polls, the economy was cited as the top concern of 62 percent of voters, the highest level in nearly 30 years.

Democrats have already passed a $787 billion stimulus bill that they say has saved or created 1 million jobs. But by some analyses, far fewer jobs have actually resulted from the legislation. Despite the stimulus spending, unemployment has risen to 10.2 percent and is expected to climb well into the 2010 election cycle.

"This is an effort by Democrats to show that they are aware of the problems and they are working to solve them instead of just playing the blame game," said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. "I don't think Americans believe all our problems are going to be solved in the next 12 months, but they want to see progress, and they want to believe we are moving in the right direction and if they don't believe that, then Democrats are going to have significant losses in 2010."

In the House, members met in a closed door session Monday night to talk about jobs and the economy.

House Democratic leaders are working on "various ideas," according to a top aide. In addition to the tax cuts and credit for small businesses, leaders are discussing legislation to help stave off foreclosures and extend health care benefits for the unemployed.

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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