At a Wednesday Capitol press conference, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) again couldn’t confidently predict that President Obama’s jobs bill has the support of the entire Democratic caucus — even after leadership tweaked some of its controversial measures to broaden party support for the plan.
“I don’t know what ‘unanimity’ means,” Reid told reporters. “We’ll get most all the Democrats.”
Unanimity, of course, means all Democrats — which will be important. If one or two Democrats defect from the bill, Republicans can (and will) say that the opposition to the plan is bipartisan.
There’s a chance that he could unite the party, particularly after replacing Obama’s proposed tax measures with a simpler five percent surtax on millionaires to pay for the jobs programs.
Back in December, following Sen. Chuck Schumer’s lead, 53 Democrats voted to create a new tax bracket at income above $1 million, and set the rate at the Clinton-era level for high earners. That wasn’t enough to break the filibuster. But it was enough to bring the party’s conservative members on board — including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Ben Nelson (D-NE). Indeed, the main defectors came from the left: Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Russ Feingold (D-WI). The only member of the Dem caucus who voted against the plan from the right was — yep — Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT).
The millionaire’s surtax is substantially similar to Schumer’s millionaire tax bracket. But that’s only half of the equation. The jobs bill itself also contains $447 billion in temporary tax cuts and spending measures meant to stimulate growth. And, of course, there’s a big election next year, and Nelson and Manchin (and other conservative Dems) are up. So they could still balk — and that’s the key question.
Reid wants at least majority support for the bill. That won’t be enough to break a GOP filibuster, but it will be enough to allow Obama and other Dems to claim a partisan minority is blocking the jobs bill.
Unanimity, however, would be better strategically.
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.