Defections by Senate Dems hamper Obama’s message on jobs

Democratic defections and a united Republican front are hampering President Obama’s message on the economy.

Last week and again Thursday night, there were a couple Democratic defections on Obama’s jobs measure. And despite a veto threat from the White House, 10 Democrats voted for a GOP alternative.

The lack of a united front is complicating a key part of Obama’s reelection strategy of running against Washington, and Congress in particular.

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Obama has been lambasting the politics of Capitol Hill, and some say a few stray Democratic votes will prevent that message from resonating with voters in 2012.

Others claim that Democratic votes against Obama’s jobs bills will be cited repeatedly next year by Republicans, who are determined to show Obama has failed to lead.

The White House stresses that a large majority of Democrats are solidly behind their president.

“Let’s be clear. Ninety-five percent of Senate Democrats voted to put teachers and first responders back to work. Exactly 0 percent of Senate Republicans joined them,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told The Hill on Friday.

“The bill failed because Senate Republicans blocked it. Senate Republicans decided they would not ask millionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit more in order to put up to 400,000 teachers in our classrooms teaching our children.”

The Republican measure offered on the floor Thursday night won more votes than Obama’s proposal.



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The GOP embraced a component of Obama’s jobs proposal eliminating the 3 percent withholding tax on federal contracts.


The administration favors the concept, but balked at the Republican offsets of unspecified spending cuts. The Office of Management and Budget added that if the bill were presented to the president with the offsets, his senior advisers would recommend a veto.

The threat did not sway some Democrats, who voted with the GOP. The 10 Democrats defections were: Sens. Al Franken (Minn.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.).

Of these senators, Franken, Klobuchar, McCaskill and Tester are co-sponsors of a similar measure offered by Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.). After the vote, Republicans noted that Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) are also co-sponsors of Brown’s bill, but voted no.

Begich's and Pryor’s offices did not comment for this article at press time.

The Republican alternative attracted 57 votes, falling three short of passing and collecting more support than the Democratic bill backed by Obama, which was rejected, 50-50.

Every Republican rejected the Obama-backed bill while Sens. Pryor, Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson also voted no.

Last week, Tester and Ben Nelson voted no on advancing Obama’s comprehensive bill, and a couple others noted their opposition on the underlying legislation as they voted yes on the procedural motion.

Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “By adding poison pills to their own legislation, Democrats ensured that the only thing bipartisan about their bills — is the opposition.”

Following the roll call, a frustrated Obama said, “For the second time in two weeks, every single Republican in the United States Senate has chosen to obstruct a bill that would create jobs and get our economy going again. That’s unacceptable.”

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Democrats had hoped to crack the Republican unity by seeking a vote on a scaled-back version of Obama’s measure. But centrist GOP Sens. Scott Brown, Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine) and Mark Kirk (Ill.) rejected it.

The $35 billion Democratic bill was designed to prevent layoffs of teachers, police officers and firefighters in cash-strapped states. Most of the funding, $30 billion, would have gone to saving teaching jobs, with the rest of the money directed to first responders.

Vice President Biden on Wednesday visited Capitol Hill to hold a rally with Senate Democrats, ripping Republicans for protecting millionaires at the expense of the working class.

Republicans countered by accusing Senate Democratic leaders of playing politics and decried their effort to raise taxes in an ailing economy.

Some of the differences between the two parties reflect rival views on how best to help the economy. Democrats have focused on measures that could spur growth in jobs immediately through temporary tax and spending measures. Republicans have focused on permanent changes to the tax code and trade deals, which they believe could have a larger impact on the economy in the long run.

Despite the defections on the Democratic side, there are signs that Republicans are worried about Obama’s jobs message and his aggressive use of the bully pulpit. Contrary to this summer, during the heated debt-limit negotiations, GOP lawmakers have softened some of their rhetoric, noting they want to find common ground with the White House on Obama’s jobs bill.

For example, the House will vote next week on the 3 percent withholding rule. GOP leaders have pointed out that Obama included repealing this mandate in his jobs plan. However, House Republicans have refused to allow a vote on the president’s entire proposal — a fact that Obama has cited in speeches.

Obama and congressional Republicans worked this month to pass three long-stalled trade agreements, but the bipartisanship has not lingered.

After Obama called Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to congratulate him on the passage of the trade pacts, Boehner chastised him for suggesting Republicans don’t have a jobs plan, according to a readout of the testy 10-minute call released by the Speaker’s office.

Days later in North Carolina, Obama mocked Republicans for not approving his entire jobs proposal.

“Maybe they just couldn’t understand the whole thing all at once,” Obama said during an address in Asheville, N.C.

“So we’re going to break it up into bite-size pieces so they can take a thoughtful approach to this legislation,” Obama said earlier this week.

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