WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats intend to jettison provisions that President Barack Obama recommended to pay for his jobs bill and substitute a tax surcharge on millionaires, officials said Tuesday, hoping to unify the party for a protracted political struggle with Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., outlined plans for a 5 percent surcharge in a closed-door meeting with the rank and file, according to participants in the session, as Obama traveled to Texas to deliver his most caustic challenge yet to House Republicans who have not allowed a vote on the legislation he unveiled nearly a month ago.
"What's the problem? Do they not have the time? They just had a week off. Is it inconvenient?" he said in Mesquite, Texas, singling out House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for special criticism.
There was no indication Cantor, R-Va., or the House Republicans would agree.
On a day rich in political maneuvering, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell announced he was ready for an immediate vote on the bill, even though he opposes it. Reading aloud on the Senate floor from a copy of Obama's speech, he said, "I do think the president makes an important point that he is entitled to a vote."
The request was blocked by Reid, who called it a "political stunt" and said he would make sure the bill comes to the floor this month. Aboard Air Force One, White House press secretary Jay Carney accused Republicans of gamesmanship.
The parliamentary dance aside, the day's events underscored that as submitted by the White House, Obama's bill would not only fail in the Republican-controlled House, but faced enough opposition from Democrats to endanger its prospects in the Senate, as well.
"There's the good, the bad and the ugly. The ugly was $447 billion," said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., referring to the overall size of the president's request.
Yet while Republicans and Democrats appear to be pointing to a showdown that could reverberate into the 2012 election campaign, some elements of the measure could clear Congress with relative ease by year's end.
As an example, Republicans have not ruled out extending and expanding the payroll tax cuts that took effect on Jan. 1, at $247 billion, the single costliest item in the Obama's legislation.
Democrats said Reid's proposed millionaires' surtax was designed to quell much if not all of the opposition from his own rank and file, a subject that Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking leader, referred to in an interview with reporters.
"We're also obviously going to work on the number of votes to support it. It may not be the exact plan offered by the resident, but I think he, when he presented it to us, said that we need to be open to some variations and modifications," Durbin said.
The payroll tax cut extension faces little if any opposition from Democrats, and Obama's request for more than $100 billion in new spending as a way of creating jobs is also popular.
To pay for his $477 billion plan, Obama has proposed higher taxes on family incomes over $250,000 and on the oil and gas industry to finance the jobs bill.
The first request troubles Democratic senators from states like New York, New Jersey and California, where large numbers of families could be hit by the increase. The second has drawn opposition most prominently from Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, whose state is home to numerous oil and gas operations.
Reid told reporters that Obama was "not locked into anything" he had recommended to pay for the legislation, adding that he was in the process of making changes in them.
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