By Alexander Bolton - 10/05/11 12:35 AM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) on Tuesday further distanced his Democratic Conference from President Obama by nixing a major component of the White House’s jobs plan.
Reid said he would revise parts of the proposal that some Senate Democrats have found unpalatable. The Nevada Democrat announced his new strategy on the same day he blocked a Republican effort to force a vote on Obama’s jobs bill.
Indeed, three weeks after Obama called on Congress to pass his jobs package “immediately,” the Democratic-led Senate has yet to vote on it.
Reid indicated he is going back to the drawing board to shore up wavering Democratic support for the $447 billion jobs bill.
Reid told his Democratic colleagues Tuesday that he would put together a new plan to pay for the package after rank-and-file colleagues balked at proposals to limit tax deductions for the wealthy and raise taxes on oil and gas companies.
“There are a wide range of things that we’re looking at, because the only objections I’ve heard from my caucus on the president’s jobs bill deal with the pay-fors,” Reid said. “So we’re resolving that issue as we speak.”
However, Obama has repeatedly made it clear that his proposed offsets are a key part of his plan, saying they completely pay for his legislation and would also reduce the deficit.
Political observers had expected Reid to attempt to move Obama’s jobs package in pieces, and he might still opt for that path. But for the time being, he is sticking to the president’s request to move his jobs legislation as a whole.
In an email to supporters titled “They won’t even vote on it,” Obama’s reelection campaign on Tuesday chastised House Republicans for not scheduling a vote on the bill.
The email, sent by Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, called the president’s legislation “not controversial” and urged people to contact Republican members over Twitter to demand a vote.
The email did not mention the Senate, nor Senate Democrats.
David Axelrod, the president’s senior political adviser, said last month the package was non-negotiable and Obama has traveled the country pressing Congress to pass it “right away.” The White House later walked back Axelrod’s claims.
Senate Republicans, sensing they have the upper hand, said Tuesday there should be a vote on the bill.
“I’ve noticed a number of Democrats have expressed their concerns about various parts of it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. “I think [the president] is entitled to know where the Senate stands on his proposal in its entirety.”
“The president wants a vote, and we’re going to be sure to give it to him,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said Tuesday.
Reid called McConnell’s request a “political stunt,” “a charade” and “senseless.”
He said, “We now have a proposal that is ridiculous on its face ... that is that we vote with no debate on the president’s jobs bill.”
McConnell was seeking to replicate the political success he scored earlier this year when he forced a vote on Obama’s budget blueprint. Not a single Democrat voted for it. Democrats at the time said Republicans were playing political games, and refused to fracture over the budget plan.
Reid on Tuesday thwarted the GOP gambit by executing a procedural move that blocked Republicans from offering it as an amendment to pending China currency legislation.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday lambasted McConnell’s move and deferred to Reid on the scheduling of the vote on the jobs package.
“We want it to be debated … And for those who vote against it to explain why," Carney said.
Reid has said a vote will occur by the end of this month.
Several Democrats have left open the possibility that they would vote against considering the president’s plan, which limits deductions and increases taxes on health plans for families earning over $250,000 a year.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D), who faces a tough election in conservative Nebraska, said he would vote against a motion to begin floor debate on Obama’s bill.
“No, no, no,” Nelson said, when asked if he would roll the dice by allowing the bill to come to the Senate floor in hopes of amending it. “With the current offsets that are essentially tax increases? No.
“This is a time to be cutting. The cutting stops when the taxes increase,” he said.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), another vulnerable incumbent, said Tuesday he would oppose the jobs bill as Obama drafted it.
“I can’t support it in its current form,” he told The Hill.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a critic of the oil and gas tax provisions, which would hurt a crucial industry in her home state, said she had yet to make up her mind.
“I’m going to listen to what the leadership says and make a decision about that later,” she said.
Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) said she would prefer raising new revenues through comprehensive tax reform instead of zeroing in immediately on specific tax increases.
“I think we’ve got to have comprehensive tax reform,” she said. “I’m always interested in looking at what we can do from a comprehensive standpoint.”
One aide to a vulnerable Democratic incumbent said it makes little sense for Obama to press lawmakers to pass the entire bill when it has no chance of getting the 60 votes it needs to clear the upper chamber.
The aide said Obama has transitioned into campaign mode and appears more interested in distinguishing himself from Congress than working with Republicans and centrist Democrats to bring to the floor jobs legislation that can pass.
Reid, meanwhile, noted that Obama expressed his willingness to embrace different ideas for paying for the plan.
“Remember, when the president announced this bill, here’s what he said: ‘I’ve given some suggestions for pay-fors. If senators and members of the House have better ideas that they want to do something differently to pay-for, that’s fine with me,’ “ Reid said.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) acknowledged on a conference call Tuesday that leaders would have to change the bill to pick up more support.
“We’re also going to work on the number of votes to support it,” Durbin said Tuesday in a conference call. “It may not be the exact plan presented by the president.”
— Daniel Strauss contributed to this report.