The story Republicans in the House and Senate tell right now is that President Obama is traveling the country demanding Congress vote on his jobs bill when part of the problem is here in Washington, D.C. with his own party.
It’s dead on arrival as far as Republican leadership is concerned, but it also lacks unanimous support among Democrats. And since the Senate is the one body Democrats control, that’s creating a bit of dissonance. Obama says vote on the bill, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) doesn’t have the votes, and, if he put it on the floor today, he’d probably lose a handful or more Democrats.
That would invite Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to reprise his oft-repeated line that the only thing bipartisan about President Obama’s jobs bill is the opposition to it. And that’s something Reid wants to avoid.
So while Republicans taunt Reid and his party for not doing as Obama says and passing the jobs bill “right now,” Democrats are looking at ways to tweak the legislation so that it can get unanimous support from his party, and Democrats can make a case to the public that they’re united behind a jobs plan Republicans are refusing to support.
“I’m happy to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to improve this bill,” Reid said on the floor Monday. “But I hope the obstructionism Republicans employed the last nine months won’t continue.”
Getting all 53 Dems on board will be a heavy lift, and a big gamble, but crucial for both the prospects for new jobs legislation and the Democratic party’s message going into 2012. Most crucially, it will require changing the specific ways Obama has proposed paying for his bill — the so-called “pay-fors.”
“The legislative process means that you’re probably gonna have amendments and changes to proposals that are made,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told reporters at his weekly Capitol briefing Tuesday. “Clearly, the pay-fors as you point out, there’s some controversy with respect to suggested pay-fors.”
As a reminder, the bill’s primary pay-for is to ask the joint deficit Super Committee to find an additional $447 billion in savings, on top of its statutory minimum $1.2 trillion. But Obama wants to rejigger the committee’s requirements to trigger a series of new taxes if the panel fails to find the additional savings on its own. And some of those taxes make particular Democrats very uncomfortable.
Senate Democratic aides say the tax enforcement mechanism is the key sticking point for the caucus, but have yet to identify which specific tax proposals would have to go, and what alternatives could be swapped in for them. Democrats from fossil fuel states have objected to the bill’s call to end tax benefits for oil and gas companies. Other Democrats have expressed concern about a call to end the so-called carried interest loophole, which allows hedge fund and private equity managers to count their income as capital gains, and thus pay taxes at a significantly lower rate than most individuals.
We should get more specifics on what precise changes Democrats will seek this week — perhaps as early as today. But it’s hard to overstate how crucial it will be for Reid to successfully consolidate Dem support for Obama’s plan if Obama wants to keep up his drumbeat.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.