ith the November unemployment numbers due to be released Dec. 4--amid fears that the results won't be good--talks are under way on Capitol Hill about a new jobs-creating bill, or maybe bills. Nothing is concrete yet, but discussions appear serious.  Lawmakers seem likely to move first to extend unemployment  and health benefits that will expire Dec. 31.  Additional infrastructure spending also is on the table, but a public-works funding measure may not be introduced until the New Year. 

House Democrats are mulling a jobs proposal that could include extensions of unemployment and COBRA health benefits, and infrastructure spending, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Dec. 1. But the timing of a bill is fuzzy.

Hoyer said that whether  a plan is adopted in the next two or three weeks or in January, Democrats want to be certain that the measure will be effective in producing jobs. He said, "Time is not the issue. Getting it right is the issue."

A wild card will be the November jobless figures themselves--if they show a sharp spike, that could well turn up the heat on Congress to act sooner, not later, and may also alter the size of any new jobs legtislation and shuffle the mix of provisions in it.

There's no shortage of talk. The White House is holding  a "Jobs and Economic Growth Forum" during the aftenoon of Dec. 3, with Cabinet secretaries leading discussion groups. Opening and closing sessions and some of the discussion groups can be viewed Dec. 3 at  House GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio) also has scheduled a Republican jobs meeting for earlier the same day.

What might a new jobs measure contain? in the House, Hoyer said, "We're looking at at lot of  things."  Among them, he said, are extending unemployment insurance and COBRA health insurance benefits, which expire Dec. 31 as well as more fiscal help to states, to avoid layoffs of teachers, police  and other workers.  A program of new government-funded jobs as well as a jobs tax credit also are being talked about.

So is spending on public works. Hoyer added, "Infrastructure clearly has been [under] very extended discussion," involving  Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and others.

At a Dec. 2  press conference, Oberstar confirmed reports that he and Obey are discussing a jobs-producing transportation bill. Oberstar said, "We have been in serious conversation about the coming confluence of bad news and how to address it." That "bad news" includes the decrease in revenue flowing to the Highway Trust Fund, states' difficfulties in coming up with their own funds to match the federal share for road projects and the ebbing of new ARRA-funded projects in May 2010.

In explaining what's motivating his talks with Obey, Oberstar said there is a "need to sustain the jobs and sustain the investment and give states the encouragement they need to continue with longer-term projects, or they'll start cutting back iin May or early June if they can't see their way to receiving the full reimbursement from the federal government." 

Oberstar added that key specifics remain to be worked out, including the possible bill's funding level, whether he and Obey can get support from the White House and the Senate,  and find a way to surmount Senate procedural hurdles that could block passage in that chamber.

A new survey shows that there are plenty of transportation projects--beyond the thousands funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-- that could get under way quickly, if Congress provides the money. The survey, released Dec. 2, was compiled by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, with help from the American Public Transportation Association. It counts  9,588 transportation projects, totaling $69.55 billion, ready to go.  The survey defines that term as projects that "can move through the federal approval process within 120 days of enactment of authorizing legislation."

The total includes  7,497 highway projects, valued at $47.26 billion, and 983 transit projects, pegged at $9.77 billion.