Obama jobs bill has three co-sponsors

After a month without formal backing, Obama's $447 billion jobs proposal will pick up “dozens” of House co-sponsors when the lower chamber returns to Washington from next week's recess, according to the office of House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.).

The bill – written in the White House and introduced by Larson – wallowed in the House for weeks without winning any co-sponsors, even as Democrats marched to the House floor to call on Republicans to move it.

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More than three weeks after it was introduced, it gained its second and third sponsors on Thursday in the form of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip.

The absence of any formal backing for what is the central plank of the Democrats' economic agenda hasn't been overlooked by GOP leaders, who have mocked the Democrats for urging a vote on legislation officially endorsed by so few members.

Even some Democratic supporters of the jobs bill have questioned why there hasn’t been a more coordinated push from leadership to get rank-and-file members to attach their names to the bill.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said many members have “caveats” of concern over certain provisions in the sweeping bill, but “given a concerted push, many of us would inevitably sign on, even with those caveats.”

“But I haven't seen the concerted push," he added.

Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.) echoed that message, saying party leaders simply haven't brought the issue up. He seemed perplexed as to why.

“There must be a reason,” Kildee said. “You have to work to get zero [co-sponsors].”

The bill as written does not include the 5.6 percent surtax on income above $1 million that the Senate added to its version of the bill last week. The surtax replaced Obama’s initial tax proposal, which would mainly have raised taxes on individuals with income above $200,000 and families with income above $250,000.

With the surtax proposal, the bill if anything is likely to be more popular with Democrats.

Democratic leaders have defended the lack of official support, noting that many members have either issued public statements endorsing Obama’s jobs bill or they’ve gone to the floor to voice their support.

Democrats said party leaders haven’t focused on co-sponsorship because the bill was authored by the White House – an unusual circumstance, they argued, which should have stream-lined the proposal for floor consideration without official endorsements.

“The purpose was to have the bill introduced, to have it considered,” Larson spokesman Ellis Brachman said, “not to have co-sponsors.”

Brachman said Larson has been collecting “dozens” of signatures from Democrats who have approached the Caucus in hopes of co-sponsoring the jobs package. Those endorsements will be added, he said, when the House returns from next week's recess.

Once members do co-sponsor the legislation, however, it will highlight which Democrats have not co-sponsored the bill as well. And that could lea to questions, particularly for vulnerable members.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), senior Democrat on the Budget Committee, predicted the Democratic support for the proposal will be sweeping.

“I'm confident that it will pick up co-sponsors – lots of 'em,” he said. “Sign me up.”

Yet Democrat leaders are not actively chasing endorsements, relying instead on rank-and-file members to come to them – a dynamic that could hamper the number of Democrats who ultimately sign on.

Pelosi and Hoyer signed on to the bill days after The Hill began asking members why more Democrats weren’t signing on as co-sponsors.

Rep. Shiela Jackson Lee (D-Texas), another supporter of Obama’s jobs bill, said the fact that the proposal was introduced by the chairman of the Democratic Caucus is a tacit indication that most Democrats support the measure. But a nudge from leadership, she suggested, would attract more support.

“If they said go down and put your name on it, we'd go down there like we had wings,” she said.

Although the Senate shot down a similar proposal this week, House Democratic leaders are still urging the Republican majority to bring Obama’s bill to the floor.

Republicans have seized on the Senate vote and the lack of Democratic co-sponsors to argue that Obama’s bill isn’t a serious proposal.

“We see in the House as well, as of last week, the chief sponsor of the president’s bill put the bill in ‘by request,’ which does not indicate a wholehearted support of the bill,” House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorChamber of Commerce overhauls lobbying operation Laura Ingraham under consideration for White House press secretary VA Dems jockey for Kaine's seat MORE (R-Va.) said this week. “At the end of last week there weren’t any Democratic co-sponsors of the President’s bill.” 

Democratic leaders dispute those charges, arguing that the attacks are “nothing more than an attempt by Republicans to distract from their lack of a jobs plan,” in the words of another senior Democratic aide.

“Dozens and dozens of House Democrats stood on the steps of the capitol at a press conference in support of the bill, the Caucus’ three top leaders are all cosponsors of the measure and many other House Democrats have either issued statements of support or appeared at events with the president touting the American Jobs Act,” the aide said in an email, downplaying the significance of the endorsement issue.

Still, with public polls showing widespread support for Obama’s jobs plan, Democrats like Grijalva are wondering why party leaders haven’t been more aggressive in rallying rank-and-file members as a show of unified support for the package.

“It's a very good question,” Grijalva said.