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."
According to the AP-GfK poll, Obama's party has lost the faith of the public on handling the economy. In the new poll, only 38 percent said they trust Democrats to do a better job than Republicans in handling the economy, the first time Democrats have fallen below 40 percent in the poll. Some 43 percent trust the Republicans more.
Immediately after the vote on Obama's plan, Democrats turned the tables and filibustered Republican-backed legislation that would prevent the government from withholding 3 percent of payments to government contractors. The legislation failed to get the 60 votes needed to end the filibuster on a 57-43 vote, even though 10 Democrats voted to advance it.
Many Democrats and President Barack Obama support the idea but opposed it Thursday because it would be paid for with $30 billion in cuts from domestic agency spending. Advocates of repealing the withholding requirement say it will help create jobs, especially from contractors on large projects with smaller profit margins.
The withholding law was passed in 2006 by a GOP-controlled Congress. Then, the idea then was to make sure contractors couldn't duck their taxes and was imposed after government investigators found that thousands of federal contractors owed taxes.
The GOP-controlled House is likely to pass the measure next week and Reid promised that the Senate would revisit the issue, though there's likely to be a split between the House and Senate over how to pay for the cost of repealing the withholding rule.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, speaking the day after Obama returned from bus tour, said the president's jobs plan has the advantage of providing an immediate kick to the economy.
"The Republicans don't have proposals that would help the economy grow or help it create jobs now," Carney said. "That's the comparison."
Republicans also want to roll back government regulations that they say choke job growth. They backed free-trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama that were ratified this month. They also back extending tax breaks for businesses that buy new equipment and favor offering a $4,800 tax credit to companies that hire veterans.
Democrats and the White House, meanwhile, are confident that other elements of Obama's larger jobs bill, including extending cuts in Social Security payroll taxes, will pass. A 2 percentage point payroll tax cut enacted last year expires at the end of the year. Obama has proposed cutting it by an additional percentage point and extending the cut to the first $5 million of a company's payroll.