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 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.
But after three weeks of presidential demands for Congress to pass his jobs bill without delay, one White House official said Obama “is open to alternative approaches to paying for the bill” and would accept Reid’s changes. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal White House strategy.
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 a cost of $247 billion over a decade, 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.