President Obama vowed Wednesday he “will not take no for an answer” from Republican senators who stood unified against his $447 billion jobs bill, as Democratic leaders regrouped and moved forward with a Plan B.
“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,” Mr. Obama said at the American Latino Heritage Forum in Washington.
“The time for games and politics is over. Too many in this country are hurting for us to stand by and do nothing.”
On Tuesday evening the president’s measure fell short of the 60 votes it needed to keep the president’s bill alive. Every Republican senator in the chamber voted against the bill, while two Democrats also opposed it. The final tally was 50-49 after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, switched his “yes” vote to “no,” a technical move that will allow him to bring up the measure again.
The president’s job package was touted as a way to cut payroll taxes, give businesses incentives for hiring the unemployed, extend unemployment benefits and boost spending on construction projects for schools, roads and bridges. It was aimed at helping reduce the national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent.
As the Senate prepared Wednesday to take up free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Columbia, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, accused the president of political posturing. He contrasted the partisan battle over the jobs bills with the support both parties are giving to the trade deals.
“If President Obama were willing to work with us on more bipartisan legislation like this, nobody would even be talking about a dysfunctional Congress,” Mr. McConnell said. “But, as we all know, that doesn’t fit in with the president’s re-election strategy.
Mr. Reid said Wednesday he isn’t sure what his next move will be on the bill. But he is expected to break up the package and push for votes on individual, more digestible pieces, such as an extension of a 2-percentage-point Social Security payroll tax cut through 2012 and an extension of emergency unemployment benefits.
“We’re working very closely with the White House and my caucus,” Mr. Reid said. “Until we have a direction from my caucus, we’re not really able to make a decision.”
The majority leader said he likely will move forward in the coming days with three annual appropriations bills before revisiting the president’s jobs package.
“Every week we’re going to be focusing on jobs,” Mr. Reid said. “I’m not positive at this time what piece of the president’s bill we’re going to do.”
Another option for Mr. Reid is to move forward with a revised version of the president’s plan that would include a new 5.6 percent surtax on those with incomes of at least $1 million, with the revenue used to pay for the jobs-stimulus package.
The surtax is designed to win support from wavering Democrats who had opposed Mr. Obama’s bill because of tax increases they said would hurt charitable giving and could hit small businesses. Targeting those making $1 million a year is seen as a more politically palatable option.
The proposal called for $447 billion in short-term infrastructure spending and tax cuts, offset by long-term tax increases that would raise $467 billion over 10 years. Those tax increases include eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies and limiting the deductions individual taxpayers could claim.
While lawmakers in both parties say they expect certain individual provisions in package to be approved, the president suggested Wednesday that he will keep lobbying for every individual element of the bill.
“A lot of folks in Washington and in the media will look at last night’s vote and say, ‘Well, that’s it, let’s move on to the next fight,’ ” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve got news for them: Not this time. Not with so many Americans out of work. Not with so many folks in your communities hurting.”