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Obama's Jobs Plan Fails First Legislative Test

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell talks about President Obama's job bill,  Oct. 4, 2011
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell talks about President Obama's job bill, Oct. 4, 2011
Michael Bowman

The U.S. Senate has rejected President Barack Obama's plan to jump-start U.S. job creation through a combination of tax incentives and public works programs. In a procedural vote, the plan got no Republican backing and was opposed by three senators of the president's own Democratic Party.

For weeks, President Obama has traveled the country, demanding that Congress act on his jobs bill, designed to combat an unemployment rate stuck above nine percent.  On Tuesday, he got his wish, but not the result he hoped for.  The Senate voted 50 to 49 to begin debate on the $447 billion American Jobs Act. Although a majority, it was short of the 60 votes required under Senate rules.

The chamber’s top Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, portrayed the bill as an extension of what he sees as President Obama’s failed economic leadership.

“Today’s vote is conclusive proof that Democrats’ sole proposal is to keep doing what has not worked," said McConnell. "The president’s first stimulus was a legislative and economic catastrophe.  Eight-hundred-twenty-five billion dollars later, there are 1.7 million fewer jobs in this country than there were when the first stimulus was signed.”

The American Jobs Act contains tax breaks for businesses that hire new workers, an extension of temporary cuts in Social Security contributions made by wage and salary earners, an extension of federal jobless benefits, and federal funding for road construction, school renovation and other public works projects.  Although specific provisions differ from President Obama’s original economic stimulus package of 2009, its overall goal - using the federal government to jump-start economic activity and stimulate job creation -- is much the same.

Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid argued in favor of the plan, noting that the Senate version called for raising federal taxes on people earning more than $1 million a year to offset expenditures.

“This legislation will ask the richest Americans to give their fair share to get our economy back on track," said Reid. "The president’s plan will put construction crews back to work, building the things that make our country stronger - roads, bridges, dams, sewers, water systems, and up-to-date schools where our children get the best education possible.”

Reid accused Republicans of blocking economic progress to weaken President Obama before next year’s general elections.

“The president’s plan contains many ideas that Republicans have supported consistently over the years," he said. "Republicans oppose those ideas now.  I guess Republicans think if the economy improves, it might help President Obama.  So they root for the economy to fail and oppose every effort to improve it.”

Minority Leader McConnell countered that it is Democrats who are playing politics with the U.S. economy, pressing forward with a bill that stood little chance of passage in a politically-divided legislature.

“Democrats have designed this bill to fail in the hopes that anyone who votes against it will look bad for opposing a bill they have mistakenly referred to as a jobs bill," he said. "This whole exercise is a charade that is meant to give Democrats a political edge.”

Among the Democrats opposing the bill was Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who voiced opposition to raising taxes on the wealthy and expanded government spending.  Republicans criticized the plan as wasteful government spending at a time when the national debt is already exploding.

Despite the defeat of the president’s bill, some individual provisions such as tax deductions do enjoy bipartisan support and might be approved by Congress.  In the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Majority Leader Eric Cantor says he hopes to work with Democrats on those areas of agreement.  Hours before the Senate vote, President Obama voiced support for a piecemeal approach, if that is what it takes to secure congressional approval.  

In a statement after the vote, President Obama said the American people will not take "no" for an answer when it comes to job creation.  

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