Obama Loses Major Battle as His Jobs Bill Splits Senate Democrats
The president could barely muster a majority on his top priority. Patricia Murphy on why his own party is divided.
The cleverly named bill was sold as a paid-for, bipartisan package of cures for the country’s anemic job market. But the Senate soundly defeated the measure, leaving it eight votes shy of the 60 that Obama needed just to get the Senate to consider it. Worst of all for Obama were the defections of two of his fellow Democrats, which limited the bill to getting more than a bare majority, as well as the declarations from several more that they would vote against the package if the Senate ever did consider it for an up-or down vote.
The defeat was a sharp rebuke for Obama that amounted to a vote of no confidence on the economic policies of recovery spending that he’s championed for years, namely his idea that flooding the economy with public money will jump-start the private sector. But even Obama’s fellow Democrats seem to have developed sufficient spending fatigue to put the brakes on new outlays, while the most moderate Democrats say the economy will never recover as long as the deficit continues to spiral out of control.
Another handful of incumbents up for reelection in red states have the added incentive of distancing themselves from their unpopular president at every chance, with a high-priced jobs bill providing just the right opportunity. The combination of real policy differences and raw political calculations combined to sow Obama’s defeat within his own party before he ever saw a fight with the Republicans.
The latest Obama plan would have spent $447 billion on infrastructure projects, teacher salaries, and an extension of a payroll tax cut that is set to expire. To pay for it, Senate Democrats last week protected a series of popular tax loopholes in favor of slapping a 5.6 percent surtax on households making more than $1 million a year. Privately, Democrats say they think the tax is a “silver bullet” that could help them heading into the 2012 elections.
Hours before Tuesday’s vote, Obama went to Pittsburgh to deliver yet another public pitch for the bill. “This is gut-check time,” he said. “Any senator that votes no will have to look you in the eye and tell you what they’re opposed to.”
But at the very moment that Obama was warning about Republicans blocking his legislation, Jim Webb, the Democratic senator from Virginia, was explaining from the floor why he opposed the measure.
“I do not believe we should raise taxes on ordinary earned income,” Webb said. “There are other ways to get there.”
Although Webb voted with the Democrats to end the filibuster, Sens. Ben Nelson and Jon Tester, two moderate Democrats up for reelection, joined the GOP to block the bill. Tester said he wanted more infrastructure spending and fewer tax breaks in the package. Nelson said the half-trillion-dollar price tag was too rich for his blood.
Other Democrats voted with the White House on Tuesday, but said they’d oppose the bill if the Senate ever voted on it.
“The bottom line is, I don’t believe the potential to create jobs with the Act justifies adding another half trillion to our almost $15 trillion national debt,” said independent Sen. Joe Lieberman. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, told a group of local reporters that the $447 cost of the package “put the ugly” in the good, bad, and ugly of the bill.
Beyond the Democratic complaints, Republicans slammed the bill as political gamesmanship.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the legislation “a charade” and blamed Obama for making the bill less likely to pass when he agreed to the millionaires’ surtax, which congressional Republicans called a “nonstarter.”
“Democrats have designed this bill to fail,” McConnell said. “They have designed their own bill to fail in the hopes that anyone who votes against it will look bad for opposing” it.
“We’re really not here to solve problems. Neither side is, candidly. We’re here for some political stunt to take place,” said Sen. Bob Corker, a freshman from Tennessee.
The White House scrambled to come up with a Plan B for the measure even before the Senate voted Tuesday night, as it became increasingly clear that it would fail, and fail badly.
Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, told MSNBC that the president would take the bill back to Congress for another vote, even if he had to chop it up into pieces and do it one portion at a time. But Pfeiffer took the chance to blame the GOP for the impasse.
“If the Republicans decide to block passage of the American Jobs Act tonight, the next step is to bring each individual piece forward and make them account for why they now oppose provisions that they used to support.”