Senate Falls Short of Votes to Take Up Obama’s Big Jobs Bill

Washington – The Democrat-led Senate effectively killed President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan Tuesday as the White House and Democratic lawmakers talked of breaking the president’s plan into pieces to try to push it through Congress.

Senators voted 50-49 on a procedural move to take up Obama’s plan, but 60 votes were required under Senate rules for lawmakers to proceed on the measure.

Democrats control the chamber with 53 votes, but two Senate Democrats facing tough re-election bids _ Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jon Tester of Montana _ voted with 46 Republicans to turn aside Obama’s plan. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also joined the opposition in a tactical move that permits him under Senate rules to call the measure back up for future votes.

The vote was a setback for Obama, who has been crisscrossing the country trumpeting the bill and predicting that its defeat would be the fault of obstructionist Republicans.

Even before the vote was taken, Obama proposed salvaging his proposals by breaking the bill into smaller pieces and trying to get Congress to pass them one by one.

“If they don’t pass the whole package we’re going to break it up into constituent parts,” Obama told during a Tuesday meeting with his Jobs Council in Pittsburgh. “And having the relevant businesses get behind an effort to move this infrastructure agenda forward is a priority.”

After the vote, the White House issued an Obama statement, which said: “Tonight's vote is by no means the end of this fight,” and he vowed to work with Sen. Reid to move the plan’s pieces forward.

Even breaking it into separate pieces might not save the president’s plan. Some senators who had serious reservations about his whole plan, but voted to debate it, indicated that they retain serious misgivings about various portions of it.

“If a vote was called on the American Jobs Act as it is now … I would vote against it,” said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, who voted to proceed with debate Tuesday. “The bottom line here is that I don't believe the potential in this act for creating jobs justifies adding another $500 billion to our almost $15 trillion national debt.”

Even if the plan had survived Tuesday's vote and eventually passed the Senate, leaders in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives already had proclaimed the president's package dead on arrival — and they control enough votes to ensure that.

The president's plan calls for $175 billion in new federal spending for highway and other public works projects, an extension of unemployment benefits and help for states to prevent teacher layoffs. It also offers $272 billion in tax relief for companies and individuals through cuts in payroll taxes and accelerated deductions for business investments.

Obama initially wanted to pay for his proposal by increasing taxes on individuals who make more than $200,000 a year and joint filers who earn more than $250,000. But that was highly unpopular among senators of both parties. Democratic lawmakers scuttled the White House payment proposal last week and replaced it with a 5.6 percent surtax on incomes of more than $1 million — sharpening the political message of how Democrats differ from Republicans in focusing higher taxes only on the rich.

Congressional Republicans, who supported a payroll tax cut last year and backed tax breaks for businesses in the past, opposed the increased spending in the president's plan and the surtax.

Like their House colleagues, Senate Republicans dismissed Obama's plan as more of a campaign-season stunt than serious legislation.

“What matters most to the Democrats who control the Senate … is that they have an issue to run on for next year,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “This whole exercise, by their own admission, is a charade meant to give Democrats a political edge in an election that's 13 months away.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said it was Republicans, not Democrats, who were guilty of playing politics over Obama's jobs plan.

“I guess Republicans think if the economy improves it might help President Obama,” Reid said.

© 2011 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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