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Senate Democrats Present Legislative Agenda

The economic stimulus package tops the list of legislative issues for Senate Democrats.

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic leaders on Wednesday unveiled the top 10 bills on their legislative agenda, with a huge economic recovery package as the centerpiece.

In addition to the economic recovery plan, which aides to President-elect Barack Obama have said could cost an estimated $775 billion, the Senate Democrats’ high priorities include measures to address pay discrimination, border and immigration issues, new protection for homeowners, tax reform, alternative energy initiatives and comprehensive health care reform.

Reid released few details about the bills, but said help for the middle class would be a central part of the Democrats’ plans.

“We have to talk about the economy and let the American people know that we know how serious it is,” Reid said. “We’re in a very, very deep rut.”

He said the public has watched job losses increase from thousands a month to hundreds of thousands a month.

“We have to have a way to recover,” Reid said. “We are going to do everything we can to create jobs and put the middle class first.”

To that end, Democratic leaders have been meeting with Obama and his economic team to craft the stimulus and recovery package with the aim of creating 3 million jobs, providing tax relief to the middle class and repairing the nation’s aging roads, bridges and highways.

Obama, who is set to deliver a major policy speech on the economy today, and Democratic leaders are considering $300 billion in tax cuts for workers and businesses over two years, representing about 40 percent of the overall package.

The plan is to include a $500 tax credit for individuals and $1,000 for families. Those breaks will come in the form of lower withholding taxes in paychecks that will give people more in their take-home pay. The Bush administration opted to stimulate the economy this summer through rebate checks, but that concept does not appear to have traction in the new proposal.

Business might get an estimated $100 billion in tax incentives across two years, including an extension of small business expensing to allow companies to deduct as much as $250,000 through the end of next year, enacting a new jobs tax credit for employers who retain or hire more employees, extending net operating losses to five years to allow businesses to more easily borrow funds and extending a 50 percent bonus depreciation for two years.

Reid said another bill at the top of the Senate’s agenda is the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which would make it easier to combat pay discrimination. Ledbetter is a former Goodyear Tire & Co. employee whose Supreme Court case involving pay bias led Congress to craft legislation last year.

The bill, which passed the House but stalled in the Senate under GOP pressure, aimed to reverse the Supreme Court decision and allow employees to sue as long as they filed a lawsuit within 180 days of any paycheck. In the Ledbetter case, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that alleged victims of wage discrimination must file a complaint within 180 days of their first paycheck or lose the right to sue, upholding a federal statute of limitations under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The House is expected to vote on the Ledbetter bill this week.