WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said today he’s prepared to break his jobs bill into pieces and try to move it that way, hours before the measure faced likely defeat at the hands of Republican senators opposed to stimulus spending and a tax surcharge on millionaires.
“I don’t know how Congress will respond to the overall package, but our expectation is if they don’t pass the whole package we’re going to break it up into constituent parts,” Obama told members of his jobs council in Pittsburgh not long before the first congressional vote on the $447 billion jobs plan.
The plan combines payroll tax cuts for workers and businesses with $175 billion in spending on roads, school repairs and other infrastructure, as well as unemployment assistance and help to local governments to avoid layoffs of teachers, firefighters and police officers.
Republicans say that the current plan is just another failed stimulus attempt.
“It’s not a jobs bill. In our view, it’s another stimulus bill,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told Fox News last week. “I don’t think it’ll pass and I don’t think it should.” House GOP leaders say they won’t bring the measure to the floor.
Despite Republican opposition to new spending, Obama singled out public works infrastructure spending in the plan as something that should move quickly.
“Having relevant businesses get behind an effort to move this infrastructure agenda forward is a priority,” Obama told the group of corporate and labor leaders Tuesday.
“We’re going to need a push I think from the business community in particular in order to get this across the finish line,” he said.
The White House remains hopeful that infrastructure spending is one of the areas where they can get Republican votes.
After meeting with his jobs council and giving a speech in Pittsburgh, Obama was to appear later Tuesday in Orlando, Fla., with a group of unemployed construction workers that the White House said would benefit from passage of the jobs plan. Both states are crucial to his re-election race next year.
The key elements of the jobs package reprise parts of Obama’s $800 billion-plus 2009 stimulus measure and a Social Security payroll tax cut enacted last year. Unlike the controversial deficit-financed stimulus bill, the jobs measure would be paid for by a 5.6 percent surcharge on income exceeding $1 million that raises more than $450 billion over a decade.
In making the case for the bill, the White House cites economists like Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics, who predicts that the measure would add 2 percentage points of growth to the economy, add 1.9 million payroll jobs, and reduce unemployment by a percentage point. But Republicans point to optimistic predictions about the 2009 measure that didn’t come to pass; unemployment hovers just above 9 percent nationwide.
The president has been struggling in opinion polls and his crusade for the measure has always been a long shot given that Republicans control the House and can filibuster at will in the Senate. Obama has nonetheless pressed for the bitterly divided Congress to pass the measure in its entirety rather than seek compromise with GOP lawmakers.
Obama’s comments Tuesday were his most direct acknowledgement that the White House would have to regroup and look for a different approach if Congress rejects the proposal.
Obama also said that he was instructing his staff to move forward on job-creating initiatives without congressional approval where possible. The White House announced steps to speed up environmental and other regulatory approvals for 14 public works projects across the country.
“We’re not going to wait for Congress,” Obama said.
While Republicans backed the payroll tax cut last year and support elements like continued tax breaks for investments in business equipment, they’re adamantly opposed to further spending and say the tax surcharge would strike at small businesses, which, in total, employ more than 300,000 people.
Democratic unanimity is not assured. Moderates like Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — both up for re-election next year in states where Obama figures to lose — may abandon the party, even as oil-state Democrats have been assuaged by a decision to get rid of an Obama proposal to have oil companies give up tax breaks.
The top Democratic vote counter, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, said in an interview Monday on the Chicago television station WTTW that the party could lose up to four Democrats on the vote. That would leave the measure short of a simple majority, much less the 60 votes needed to cut off a GOP filibuster on a motion to simply begin debate on the measure.
If Democrats fail as expected — they control 53 votes in the 100-member Senate — a fresh wave of partisan finger-pointing is likely.
Both the House and Senate are then expected to turn this week to approving U.S. trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, one of the few areas of agreement between Republicans and the administration on boosting the economy.