House Democrats are looking at swelling deficits further, at least temporarily, on a jobs-producing bill in response to double-digit unemployment and a sense within their ranks that the party needs to do more to put people back to work.
But many of the ideas on the table so far are extensions of last February's $787 billion economic stimulus package _ such as unemployment benefits and subsidies to help the jobless pay for health insurance. They maintain the social safety net for the 15.7 million Americans out of work but they don't directly create new jobs.
Aware that the February stimulus bill has not prevented unemployment from reaching 10.2 percent and of public opinion polls showing the free spending measure is losing popularity with voters, Democrats are wary of putting a stimulus label on their new package.
"I wouldn't characterize it as a second stimulus," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday. "I don't want to be as broad as that, I want it to be very targeted on jobs."
House Democrats debated ways to address job creation at a caucus meeting Monday night, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised colleagues the chamber would take up a jobs measure after it completes its health care overhaul bill. That makes it unlikely to pass into law this year.
Job-creating ideas include additional help for small business, more road and bridge spending, and extending business tax breaks slated to expire at the end of the year, according to spokespersons for Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.
A per-job tax credit for businesses making new hires is also under consideration, as is help for financially struggling state and local governments.
The White House announced that Obama would host a jobs summit in early December but has thus far stayed silent on whether legislation is needed.
But the drive comes as Democrats are also responding to increasing anxiety among voters about rising budget deficits and debt. On Thursday, the House is scheduled to again approve pay-as-you-go legislation requiring Congress to offset new tax cuts or spending initiatives with spending cuts or new revenues elsewhere.
Republicans said Democrats were simply pulling out the free-spending stimulus playbook that will add almost $1 trillion to the U.S. debt but hasn't produced as promised.
"Americans are asking, 'Where are the jobs?' But all they are getting from out-of-touch Washington Democrats is more spending and more debt piled on our kids and grandkids," said House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio. "Instead of doubling down with more spending and borrowing, the American people want fiscally responsible solutions to get the economy back on track."
Debate over a new stimulus bill comes as the current one continues to pump money into the economy after a slow start. Only about one-fourth of the February bill's deficit-driven stimulus impact was felt by the October start of the budget year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Most of any additional appropriations wouldn't be felt for months.
Monday's meeting of House Democrats came in response to protests from many members that the party wasn't doing enough to create jobs.