Democrats Seek to Push Ahead $15 Billion Jobs Bill, With More Steps to Come

Carl Hulse|The New York Times

Senior Democrats say the House is preparing to quickly pass a $15 billion job-creating measure once it is approved by the Senate, illustrating new urgency on the part of Democrats to show they are taking steps to improve the national employment picture.

Though House Democrats late last year passed a more sweeping $154 billion jobs and economic recovery package, senior aides and top lawmakers said the House was eager to send President Obama the Senate measure — perhaps by the end of the week — to secure an immediate victory on jobs. Democrats would then try to pass other initiatives intended to produce new employment opportunities.

“We need to get a jobs bill on the president’s desk ASAP,” said one top Democratic aide, who was granted anonymity to discuss party strategy.

Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader, was not ready on Tuesday to make a firm commitment about the Senate proposal, particularly since the Senate had not yet completed its consideration of the measure and not all Democratic leaders had given their consent to embracing it. But he acknowledged that speedy consideration was a realistic option.

The push behind the relatively modest package of tax breaks for employers who hire the unemployed and aid for public works projects is a sign that, even as Democrats continue to press for a broad health care overhaul, they are also working to notch more incremental accomplishments as they try to build a record for the November elections.

“We have a jobs agenda, not a jobs bill,” Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said. “We’re going to have more votes, and create more jobs.”

After a year in which the health care legislation consumed much of the attention of Congress, Democrats are trying to pivot to make clear that lagging employment is now their primary concern. Mr. Hoyer, in a meeting with reporters, repeatedly pointed out that while health care legislation was important, employment issues would take top priority.

“We want to focus on jobs,” Mr. Hoyer said.

Mr. Reid said he intended to follow up the initial legislation with a measure to promote travel, which he said would create a significant number of tourism and service industry jobs and benefit his home state. He said a subsequent jobs-related bill would emphasize help for small businesses, an approach that has bipartisan support in the Senate as well.

Democrats also intend to push ahead with extensions of unemployment benefits and health coverage for the jobless, programs that are due to expire at the end of the month. Lawmakers also expect to extend corporate tax breaks that were jettisoned from an earlier bipartisan jobs measure.

The current Senate jobs proposal developed by Mr. Reid was advanced Monday night when five Republicans joined Democrats in shutting off the threat of a filibuster, clearing the way for its expected approval on Wednesday. The Republicans’ decision to side with Democrats provided at least a temporary respite from the sharp partisanship that has plagued the Senate over the past year.

The first Republican to cross party lines on the jobs vote was Senator Scott Brown, the newly elected senator from Massachusetts whose victory ended the 60-vote Democratic majority in the Senate. Republicans had hailed Mr. Brown’s election as a turning point that would allow them to sustain filibusters even against a united Democratic majority.

Instead, in one of his first votes, Mr. Brown helped Democrats overcome a potential Republican filibuster, a decision that attracted criticism from conservatives who only a few weeks ago were celebrating his campaign and election.

But Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said on Tuesday that he was not disappointed by Mr. Brown’s action.

“The Republican Party represents all parts of the country, different points of view,” Mr. McConnell said. “We don’t expect our members to be in lock step on every single issue, and we’re happy to have him here.

“I think it’s made a huge, positive difference for us and for the whole legislative agenda.”