WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's jobs bill, facing a critical test in the Senate, appears likely to die at the hands of Republicans opposed to stimulus spending and a tax surcharge on millionaires.
Obama has been waging a campaign-style effort seeking to rally public support behind the $447 billion measure, which will be the subject of a Senate vote Tuesday. 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.
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.
Republicans say the 2009 stimulus measure was an expensive failure and that the current plan is just like it.
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 his GOP rivals.
"This is not the time for the usual games or political gridlock in Washington," Obama said in his weekend radio and Internet address. "Any senator out there who's thinking about voting against this jobs bill needs to explain why they would oppose something that we know would improve our economic situation."
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.
"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.
Democratic unanimity is not assured. Moderates like Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — both are 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.
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 — it'll start up a fresh wave of partisan finger-pointing.
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.
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