Next moves uncertain on Obama jobs bill
WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in the Senate promise additional votes on pieces of the president's $447 billion jobs bill, but how those pieces might be arranged and when the votes might be taken is up in the air.
Instead of immediate votes on more jobs legislation, the Senate is turning to long-stalled spending legislation and then is going on recess at the end of next week.
The jobs package died Tuesday at the hands of Senate Republicans, but Obama and his Senate Democratic supporters promise to force votes on items such as infrastructure spending, jobless assistance, aid to local governments, and tax cuts for individuals and businesses that were major parts of the massive bill.
Obama's top ally in the Senate says it's unclear which items will get votes.
"I'm not positive at this time what piece of the president's bill we're going to do," Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said.
Instead Reid said the chamber will first debate a bundle of appropriations bills setting next year's budgets for the departments of Commerce, Agriculture, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development. That's likely to consume next week. And with the chamber taking a vacation at the end of the month, it appears that it'll be November at the earliest before any pieces of Obama's jobs package get a re-vote.
Obama, in his first, combative appearance since Republicans and a two Democrats filibustered his jobs plan to death, promised to keep the pressure on Congress.
"Now a lot of folks in Washington and the media will look at last night's vote and say, `Well, that's it. Let's move on to the next fight.' But I've got news for them: Not this time. Not with so many Americans out of work," he said at a White House event Wednesday recognizing Latino contributions to American history. "Not with so many folks in your communities hurting. We will not take no for an answer."
The White House is using the jobs issue as a political sword as the 2012 campaign heats up. But it will take a more bipartisan approach to actually deliver results sought by an angry public hit with 9.1 percent unemployment.
Leaders of the GOP-controlled House have signaled they support tax cuts for small businesses and changes to jobless insurance to allow states to use unemployment funds for on-the-job training. And they've indicated they'll be willing to accept an extension of cuts to the Social Security payroll tax.
But stimulus-style spending is a nonstarter with the tea party-infused House and is a longshot in the Senate as well.
Senate Democrats started sorting through the options at a closed-door meeting Wednesday, but it's just the start of a difficult process of trying to actually advance legislation rather than air political differences.
One option, backed by No. 3 Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, is to marry a tax holiday for corporations to repatriate overseas profits back to the U.S. with an Obama-backed proposal to establish a national infrastructure bank. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is pressing to extend payroll tax cuts. And many Democrats back infrastructure initiatives like road and bridge construction and money to rebuild schools.
Obama's plan died in the Senate even though he had been campaigning for it across the country for weeks. Republicans were opposed to its stimulus-style spending and its tax surcharge for the very wealthy.
As lawmakers and the White House try to find the way ahead, a congressional "supercommittee" is working to come up with $1.2 trillion or more in deficit savings, some of which both Democrats and Republicans may want to claim for jobs initiatives.
"There are government actions that we can take. We may take some of these on a bipartisan basis before the end of the year," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. "Some of them are probably going to be considered by the Joint Select Committee."
The supercommittee, however, is struggling to come up with a package of spending cuts. It may not meet its goal, much less have excess savings to "pay for" jobs initiatives.