Haraz N. Ghanbari, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Despite a campaign-style push this week by President Barack Obama, the Senate on Thursday scuttled pared-back jobs legislation aimed at helping state and local governments avoid layoffs of teachers and firefighters.
Obama's three-day bus tour through North Carolina and Virginia — states crucial to his re-election race next year — didn't change any minds among Senate Republicans, who filibustered Obama's latest jobs measure to death just as they killed his broader $447 billion jobs plan last week.
The 50-50 vote came in relation to a motion to simply take up the bill and fell well short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster. Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut broke with Obama on the vote. Two Democrats who voted with the president, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, however, said they couldn't support the underlying Obama plan unless it's changed.
Thursday's $35 billion measure combined $30 billion for state and local governments to hire teachers and other school workers with $5 billion to help pay the salaries of police officers, firefighters and other first responders. The White House says the measure would "support" almost 400,000 education jobs for one year. Republicans call that a temporary "sugar high" for the economy.
Obama and his Democratic allies are acting like they've found a winning issue in repeatedly pressing popular ideas such as infrastructure spending and boosting hiring of police officers and firefighters. The sluggish economy and lower tax revenues have caused many teachers' jobs to be cut over the past several years.
"In the coming school year, many school districts will have to make another round of difficult decisions that will cost jobs and put the education of the nation's children at risk," a White House policy statement said.
"We cannot afford to be bailing out local governments, and we can't afford stimulus 2.0," countered Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
After the failure of the jobs measure last week, Democrats vowed to try to resurrect it on a piece by piece basis, even though the strategy doesn't seem to have any better chance of success. But Democrats are trying to win a political advantage through repeated votes.
They're also pressing for passage of a poll-tested financing mechanism — a surcharge on income exceeding $1 million.
An AP-GfK poll taken Oct. 13-17 found 62 percent of respondents favoring the surcharge as a way to pay for jobs initiatives. Just 26 percent opposed the idea.
"Protecting millionaires and defeating President Obama are more important to my Republican colleagues than creating jobs and getting our economy back on track," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said.
Republicans say the president is more interested in picking political fights with them than seeking compromise. Still, they don't seem to be afraid of a politically weakened Obama. Not a single Republican backed the president in last week's vote
"The fact is we're not going to get this economy going again by growing the government. It's the private sector that's ultimately going to drive this recovery," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. "Look, if big government were the key to economic growth, then countries like Greece would be booming right now."
At the same time, several Democrats opposed the underlying measure, even though they voted in favor of at least allowing debate to begin.
"This bill fails to give taxpayers any guarantee that this money would actually be used to hire teachers and invest in our schools," Tester said. "States would get loads of money with little guidance that they spend the money on teachers."
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