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Senate Democrats pitch leaner version of jobs bill

WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats yesterday proposed a new, stripped-down version of their jobs bill in hopes of getting it through Congress quickly.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's latest bill is focused on several popular provisions aimed at boosting job creation, including tax breaks for companies that hire unemployed workers and for small businesses purchasing equipment. It also would renew highway programs and help states and local governments finance large infrastructure projects.

Reid (D-Nev.) unveiled the pared-back plan after having difficulty uniting his Democratic colleagues behind a broader bill stuffed with unrelated provisions sought by lobbyists for business groups and doctors.

The move blows apart an agreement with key Republicans like Charles Grassley of Iowa, who worked with Democrats for weeks to produce a bill containing the extra provisions. They included a $31-billion package of tax breaks for individuals and businesses, an extension of several provisions of the USA Patriot Act, and higher payments for doctors facing Medicare payment cuts.

The surprise move appears to insulate Democrats from criticism that greeted the earlier, lobbyist-backed legislation first leaked on Tuesday and officially unveiled only hours before Reid's announcement.

"The message is so watered down, with people wanting other things in this big package," Reid told reporters.

With his strong-arm tactics, Reid appears to be practically daring Republicans to try to block the pared-back bill.

"Well, Republicans are going to have to make a choice," Reid said. "I don't know in logic what they could say to oppose this."

Still, a number of the provisions dropped Thursday - including help for the unemployed, the business tax breaks and a renewal of soon-to-expire provisions of the Patriot Act - are sure to return soon because they expire at the end of the month.

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