WASHINGTON — Eager to portray themselves as responsible stewards of the economy, congressional Democrats Thursday pledged to enact a package of measures to spur job growth while taking steps to tackle the burgeoning federal budget deficit.
"Our No. 1 emphasis is going to be on creating jobs," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., as he unveiled a set of proposals he hopes to pass in the coming weeks.
At the same time, the House Thursday passed a bill 233-187 that requires legislation to detail how any proposed spending program or tax cut will be offset by a spending cut elsewhere. That bill now goes to the White House for the president's signature.
Both actions were part of a concerted effort by Democrats to rebut criticism that they were too preoccupied by the monthslong health care debate to focus on the economy.
But as if to underscore the political vulnerability of Democrats in advance of this year's congressional elections, the House also approved an increase of the federal debt limit to $14.29 trillion, a vote likely to be used against them in their re-election campaigns even though it was necessary to prevent the government from default.
The Senate Democratic jobs plan initially would involve extending a tax incentive to employers to reward them for hiring new workers. The details of the credit are expected to be finalized in the coming days by Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, but a bipartisan proposal offered by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is under consideration.
The Schumer-Hatch plan would refund the 6.2 percent share of the Social Security payroll tax to companies of any size that hire workers this year.
Hatch also cited the Massachusetts election. "That said to them, 'We better get off our high horses and work with Republicans.' "
While Reid said Thursday that he hoped to have a vote on a tax-credit bill as early as next week, it remained unclear whether the measure would draw significant GOP support. A sticking point remains how the credit will be financed. Republicans oppose using money recovered from bailed-out financial institutions through repayments to the Troubled Assets Relief Program.
Details of the full Senate Democratic plan remained vague, however, and Senate leaders refused to say how much the overall program might cost. But components of the agenda are likely to include some tax relief and loan assistance for small businesses, and increased investment in highway infrastructure projects.