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Senate Moves to Economic Development Bill

June 7, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

After renewing the PATRIOT Act and taking some time off, the Senate is ready to try again to do something related to the unemployment crisis we are stuck in. In April they spent weeks working on a small business jobs bill, only to see it filibustered in the end over a controversial amendment. Now they’re going to try the Economic Development Revitalization Act of 2011, which would reauthorize and expand the grant-making Economic Development Administration through 2015. Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] has filed for cloture on the bill, but he’s hoping to reach a unanimous consent agreement to proceed to it this afternoon.

The EDA was established by Congress back in 1965, with a mission to “lead the federal economic development agenda by promoting innovation and competitiveness, preparing American regions for growth and success in the worldwide economy.” Basically, they give grants to economically-distressed communities to use for attracting new businesses to come to the area and encourage expansion of existing businesses that provide jobs.

The current reauthorization bill would update the EDA’s guidelines to allow them to invest more money in areas that are been hit particularly hard by the jobs crisis. In areas that have had unemployment rates that are consistently higher than the national average and per capita incomes that are consistently low, the EDA would be allowed to contribute up to 80% of the funding for a project. They are generally only allowed to contribute 50%, with the other 50% coming from the grant recipients.

The EDA had been funded at $300 million a year, but their last authorization expired in 2009. The new bill would up their funding to $500 million.

Ultimately, passage is probably going to come down to how amendments are handled. The Senate rules allow for a pretty wide-open amendment process, and Reid agreed earlier this year to not use special procedures to block senators from introducing controversial or non-germane amendments that could become poison pills and end up killing bills. If senators want to get this bill passed, they’ll keep their amendments on topic and avoid stuff that they know might create unnecessary divisions. As it stands, the bill has bipartisan co-sponsorship. That’s rare these days, and changing the bill too much could ruin it.

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