Barack Obama did not mince words Wednesday in slamming Republicans in the Senate for blocking his $447-billion jobs bill in a procedural vote on Tuesday night.
“No other jobs plan has that kind of support from actual economists – no plan from Congress, no plan from anybody,” the President said in a speech to Hispanic activists in Washington.
“But apparently, none of this matters to Republicans in the Senate. Because last night, even though a majority of senators voted in favour of the American Jobs Act, a Republican minority got together as a group and blocked this jobs bill,” he said.
It’s true a Republican filibuster in the Senate, where the GOP has 47 seats, made it impossible to get the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and proceed with an up-or-down floor vote on the measure. Had it met that threshold, the bill would have needed only 51 yeas to pass in a final vote.
But it is far from clear that a majority of senators support the bill. Some Democrats who voted to break the Republican filibuster also made it known that they opposed the bill outright or wanted major changes to it before it could pass. That’s the case for Jim Webb of Virginia and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
At least half a dozen other Democrats facing re-election next year have also been cool to the bill. Montana’s Jon Tester and Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, who voted with Republicans on Tuesday, are outright hostile to it.
The legislation would provide $275-billion in payroll tax relief for workers and small firms and $175-billion in infrastructure spending and aid to prevent state and local government layoffs. A large number of independent economists have predicted the measures would provide much-needed support to an economy that remains at risk of falling into another recession.
A major stickler for conservative and centrist Democrats, however, is the 5.6-per cent surtax on millionaires Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has proposed to pay for the bill. The spending and payroll tax relief would be front-loaded in 2012, but paid for over 10 years with the new levy on the wealthy. Few legislators are keen to raise taxes so close to an election.
As long as the bill contains the millionaires’ tax, it faces a tough slog not only in the Senate. It is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives, where Speaker John Boehner might not even bring it to a vote.
But, of course, Mr. Obama already knows that. He has said he would be willing to break the bill up into smaller pieces, in the hopes that Republicans in both chambers might find something they like.
The payroll tax cuts likely stand the best chance of getting a majority of votes in both houses and overcoming a Republican filibuster in the Senate. But even that is no slam dunk.
Mr. Tester’s opposition to the bill shows why Mr. Obama is having trouble rallying even members of his own party, calling it “an expensive, temporary fix to a problem that needs a big, long-term solution.”
Mr. Obama insisted that Tuesday’s Senate vote was not the end of the story.
“We will not take no for an answer,” he said in his speech. “We will keep organizing and we will keep pressuring and we will keep voting until this Congress finally meets its responsibilities and actually does something to put people back to work and improve the economy.”
Still, no one is sure if he’s serious. Some pundits believe the White House secretly welcomes the bill’s demise so that Mr. Obama can campaign for re-election next year against a “do-nothing Congress.”
Mr. Reid, however, accused Republicans of blocking the jobs bill because they secretly hope the economy remains in bad shape through 2012 to bolster their own election prospects.
It’s still unclear who will come out on top in this struggle. But there is little doubt that, unless Congress does something soon to restore confidence in the American economy, the country’s 14 million jobless will be the losers.