At first glance, a bill that encourages companies to relocate jobs to the U.S. from overseas seems like a solid candidate for widespread support.
But like much legislation these days in the bitterly divided Senate, partisan politics intervened, as Republicans on Thursday successfully blocked the measure that one senator called a "joke."
The Bring Jobs Home Act would strip tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and cut taxes for businesses to bring jobs back to the U.S. Democrats hailed it as "common sense" measure that would boost domestic job creation and close tax code loopholes that encourage outsourcing.
"We need to be exporting our products, not our jobs," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat and author of the bill. "This bill encourages American businesses to bring jobs home and stops rewarding companies that move them abroad."
The White House also backed the bill, saying it would "encourage companies to invest in the United States."
But Republican leaders opposed on the measure on the grounds it effectively would impose an unfair tax increase on many companies.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said that while "on the surface, this proposal may sound reasonable," it was misleading and would lead to an "extraordinary deviation from current tax policy."
"There has always been a [tax] deduction allowed for a business's ordinary and necessary expenses — and expenses associated with moving have always been regarded as deductible business expenses," Mr. Hatch said Thursday. "As substantive tax policy goes, this proposal is a joke."
The bill died on a mostly partisan 56-42 vote, falling four short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. Four Republicans supported the measure: Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Susan M. Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine. No Democrats opposed it.
The bill was one of several "jobs bills" and tax measures Senate Democrats have floated this month, including a measure to extend expiring Bush-era tax cuts only for households making less than $250,000 a year.
While few if any of their proposals have a realistic chance of becoming law in the current political climate, Democrats are using Republican opposition to portray the party as beholden to big business and corporate money ahead of the November elections.
"It's fairly easy to see why Republicans are blocking our bill to stop outsourcing. They're obviously defending their presidential nominee, who of course made a fortune by shipping jobs overseas," said Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, in reference to presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney. "It's no wonder Republicans are afraid to even debate this."
But Republicans say the Democrats' economic agenda is a sham, insisting that any tax increase — including those for businesses and households making more than $250,000 — will hinder the sluggish economy from recovering.
"Democrats are evidently so determined to raise taxes on American job creators that if we don't let them do it, they'd actually welcome an economic calamity that could rock not only the American economy, but the global economy too," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said.
"When they say 'tax the rich,' the middle class isn't far behind."
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, countered that the Republicans' "trickle down approach" is a proven failure.
"It's amazing: For 60 years it was discredited, and now it is the heart of the program of a major party here in America," Mr. Schumer said.
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