Despite historic snowfall and blizzard conditions that shut down most of Washington, D.C., debate continued this week about what Congress should do to deal with continued high unemployment.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have been working toward a bipartisan bill that would tackle a range of issues in addition to employment, including the estate tax, which expired at the end of 2009, and continued funding for surface transportation projects.
However, late in the week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) seemed to discard that concept and filed cloture on a smaller bill, worth about $15 billion, so the Senate could move forward with it after returning on Feb. 22 from a week-long President’s Day recess.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) has been pushing for a $1.5 billion disaster package as part of the jobs legislation. Agricultural disaster funding was included in the bipartisan bill but appears to have been jettisoned in the smaller bill Reid is championing.
Lincoln said in a press release Friday that the package, based on legislation she and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) introduced in November, would provide an estimated $1.1 billion in direct payment assistance to producers in counties declared primary disaster areas by USDA. The Lincoln release said these direct payments would be intended to “bridge the gap” until payments are made under the new Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE) program, which was included in the 2008 Farm Bill to cover disaster losses.
The federal government and much of Capitol Hill were closed Monday through Thursday because of the unusual winter weather. The NAWG office closed Wednesday due to blizzard conditions throughout the daylight hours and remained closed Thursday. Transportation in the region has proved difficult for the last week, with some minor and neighborhood roads untouched, and train service reduced or cut off altogether.
Both chambers were out of session on Friday and are scheduled to be out through next week for President’s Day, returning on Feb. 22.