WASHINGTON – The Senate blocked President Barack Obama’s jobs plan Tuesday night, prompting Democratic leaders to begin laying plans to divide the $447 billion package into pieces they hope will be too politically popular to oppose.
The legislation, which is the centerpiece of Obama’s latest effort to boost the struggling economy and avoid what economists warn could be a double-dip recession, failed to attract the votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Sixty were needed, and it received just 50 – with all 46 Republicans present voting against.
Now, Democrats will bring up individual elements of the bill that have widespread appeal in opinion polls. They are likely to include a tax break for workers and funds to prevent teacher layoffs, as well as new spending on road construction and school modernization. Other provisions include tax credits for companies that expand their payrolls and hire veterans looking for jobs.
One of the most controversial provisions was a 5.6 percent surtax on millionaires, starting in 2013, that was designed to pay for the legislation.
Even before the vote, Obama acknowledged the bill faced certain defeat and conceded the White House would have to take a new approach. “We’re going to have to break it up,” he said shortly after meeting with a group of business and labor leaders in Pittsburgh.
“Folks should ask their senators, ‘Why would you consider voting against putting teachers and police officers back to work?’ Ask them what’s wrong with having folks who have made millions or billions of dollars to pay a little more,” Obama said after meeting with his Jobs Council. The unemployment rate for September was 9.1 percent.
The GOP-led House has refused to consider Obama’s proposal. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the majority leader, said he welcomed a breakup of the bill, but dismissed the proposed tax hike on the wealthy as a “nonstarter.”
“Hopefully this says this is the end of the political games,” Cantor said. “Our message is we do have some potential to agree on some things.”
Unemployed workers converged on the Capitol Tuesday to hold protests and a prayer vigil to press for passage. The demonstration recalled the “Occupy Wall Street” protests occurring across the country.
Republicans have stood en masse against additional federal spending to spur the economy. And even some Democrats oppose the “millionaires’ tax.”
“You can’t tax your way out of an economic downturn,” said Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who opposes the bill even though he voted to end the filibuster.
Two Democrats facing difficult re-elections voted to block the legislation – Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Sen. Jon Tester of Montana. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., initially voted to halt the filibuster, but later switched his vote under a procedural rule that will allow him to bring up the bill again in the future.