Washington (CNN) - House Democrats said Thursday they're planning to use money intended to bail out banks, Wall Street and other financial institutions to pay for their jobs bill, a package they aim to vote on by the end of the
"I think the TARP funds are appropriately used to create jobs to reduce the deficit," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at her weekly news conference, referring to the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
It's unclear if the proposal would tap unused TARP funds or money repaid to the Treasury by banks who got bailout money. Democratic sources say leaders are discussing those details with the Obama administration.
Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have been looking at a series of proposals to address the record unemployment numbers in recent weeks and are now focusing on an initial package that Congress could vote on before leaving for the holiday break.
But the speaker stressed that "this is not the be-all" and said Congress will work on a broader economic proposal early next year.
The major piece of the Democrats' jobs package is a continuation of the centerpiece of the stimulus bill enacted earlier this year - investments in infrastructure such as water projects, high-speed rail programs, and retrofitting buildings with energy-efficient technologies. But, Pelosi argued, "this is not my father's public works program."
House Republican Leader John Boehner immediately rejected the idea, saying that bailout money was meant only for emergencies. "This idea that we're going to take this money that's being paid back to the government and then turn around and spend it on useless government programs is a very big mistake," he said.
Democrats also want to funnel money to pay directly for local needs that struggling state governments have been unable to support, such as more police, teachers, and emergency response personnel, according to several Democratic leadership sources.
In addition to the infrastructure spending, Democrats plan to extend unemployment assistance, pay for food stamps, and renew health care benefits for Americans whose coverage is expiring at the end of the year. But while the bailout money would be tapped to pay for the new infrastructure and jobs program components, Democrats do not plan to use it to pay for the extension of these benefits, according to these sources.
House Democrats met Thursday morning to discuss the size of a package that they could pass this year but no decisions were made. Pelosi told members she was still talking to the White House about it. But representatives agreed that if they are to vote on it this year it would need to be tacked onto the must-pass spending measure that funds the government.
"There's real urgency in our caucus to do something before Christmas," said one Democratic leadership aide.