By Alexander Bolton - 10/11/11 11:19 PM EDT
President Obama received a slap from members of his own party Tuesday as the Senate voted 50-49 to block his $447 billion jobs package.
The jobs plan, which the president has spent much of the last month touting on a cross-country tour, fell well short of the 60 votes it needed to proceed.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) originally voted in favor, but changed his vote to 'no' in a procedural move to keep open the option of raising the issue again without filing for cloture.
All of the Republicans present on Tuesday voted against the motion.
However, the White House will be able to point out that a majority of the Senate voted with the president.
Democratic leaders held the vote open to give Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) a chance to vote for it, a move that highlighted their desire to show the package winning as many Democratic votes as possible.
Shaheen voted in favor of the measure later on Tuesday night. She arrived at the Capitol late after receiving a civic award in Boston.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) missed the vote for medical reasons.
Polling data has shown Obama has gained political momentum in recent weeks by barnstorming the country and challenging GOP leaders by name for obstructing his jobs agenda.
But Tuesday’s vote bolstered Republican leaders’ argument that opposition to the president’s agenda is bipartisan.
Even members of the Democratic Conference who agreed to proceed to the jobs measure questioned whether it is necessary legislation when the country is running a $1.5 trillion budget deficit.
“The truth of the matter is, most Democrats know just as well as I do that passing another stimulus and tax hike is a lousy idea — which is why the president is having such a hard time convincing many Democrats to vote for it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said before the vote.
In the run-up to the vote, Obama’s political advisers portrayed it as a black-and-white partisan fight between a president trying to address the nation’s high unemployment rate and Senate Republican leaders more interested in partisan politics than the national good.
“Their strategy is to suffocate the economy for the sake of what they think will be a political victory,” Jim Messina, campaign manager of Obama for America, wrote in an email to supporters. “They think that the more folks see Washington taking no action to create jobs, the better their chances in the next election. So they’re doing everything in their power to make sure nothing gets done.”
Centrist Democrats undercut that narrative by speaking out against Obama’s plan, even though they voted to debate it.
Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) voted to cut off a potential GOP filibuster but said he nevertheless opposes raising taxes on ordinary income, especially during a time of recession.
Senate Democratic leaders rewrote Obama’s jobs bill to pay for its stimulus by levying a 5.6 percent surtax on income over a million dollars beginning in 2013.
Webb said the federal government should give wealthy people incentive to invest in the economy instead of increasing their income taxes.
“I strongly believe that the way to bring good jobs back is to improve our economy in the private sector, and that means more capital investment,” Webb said.
“Winston Churchill once said something to the effect that you can’t tax your way out of an economic downturn any more than you can pick up a bucket if you’re standing in it,” he added.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, supported Reid’s bid to begin debate on Obama’s jobs package but voiced misgivings over its substance.
“The bottom line here is that I don’t believe the potential in this act for creating jobs justifies adding another $500 billion to our almost $15 trillion national debt,” Lieberman said.
“In fact, I think the most important thing we can do to improve our economy, reduce unemployment [and] create jobs is to bring our national debt under control.”
Senior White House officials said Tuesday they would work with Senate Democrats to divide the bill into pieces that would be more likely to pass.
They emphasized unanimous Republican opposition to the plan and downplayed Democratic defections.
White House officials argued it would be absurd to claim Democrats don’t support the president simply because a few centrists voted against the measure.
One White House official said the president and Democratic Senate leaders are “clearly on the same page going forward.”
The president’s advisers plan to work with the Senate Democratic leaders to break the bill into smaller parts and organize a plan for passing them.
Lieberman said he would consider voting for some of the proposals within Obama’s broader package.
“I will seek to amend the American Jobs Act down to a very few of its constituent parts that I think are worth their cost,” he said.
Sam Youngman contributed to this story.
This story was updated at 9:05 p.m.