Dems seek to fracture Senate GOP unity

Senate Democrats, exasperated by their failure to crack GOP unity, are forging ahead with a new jobs strategy that will likely produce an old result.

Democratic leaders have changed the ingredients of, chopped up and sweetened President Obama’s jobs package in an effort to lure Republican votes.

It hasn’t worked, triggering the question: What will it take for even one or two Senate Republicans to vote for anything in the president’s plan?

That is what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has been pondering in recent days after repeated efforts to pick off a GOP defector have failed.

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A senior Senate Democratic aide predicted Tuesday that not a single Republican would vote for the latest jobs package of $50 billion in infrastructure spending combined with a $10 billion national infrastructure bank. 

Senate Democratic leaders hope to vote Thursday on the jobs bill, but they expect the outcome to follow the same lines as the previous two jobs measures Republicans voted unanimously to block.

The first vote was on Obama’s entire plan; the second highlighted aid for emergency responders. Both triggered a couple defections from the Democratic Caucus.

Asked on Tuesday if he was frustrated, Reid responded, “I’m not frustrated, I’m terribly disappointed.”

Obama will try to ramp up pressure on Republicans by visiting Washington’s Key Bridge on Wednesday, one of many bridges around the country eligible for funding if the infrastructure bill passes. The event comes two weeks after Vice President Biden held a rally on Capitol Hill to seek votes on the administration’s plan.

Democratic operatives are quick to note that they never expected to pass the jobs bills through the Senate, adding that the multiple roll calls will put Republicans on the defensive and force them to explain on the 2012 campaign trail why they voted no on measures that poll well with voters.

Two of the Democrats’ targets, Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), said they would likely vote against the infrastructure bill because it would raise the income tax.

A third, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), said she is reviewing it. 

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has exasperated Reid by keeping his conference tightly unified throughout the fall’s debate on stimulus spending. 

Reid lashed out at Republicans on Tuesday, accusing them of acting “like puppets” of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) President Grover Norquist, a conservative activist. 

“My Republican friends, those poor folks, are being led like puppets by Grover Norquist. They’re giving speeches that we should compromise on our deficit. Never do they compromise on Grover Norquist. He is their leader,” Reid said.

Reid and other Democrats have lashed out at a taxpayer pledge, signed by most Republicans in Congress, that opposes any bills that call for a net increase in taxes. 

“Harry Reid should read the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. It is a written promise by legislators to their voters. Not to ATR or me,” Norquist tweeted in response to Reid.

The GOP opposition has highlighted the inability of Democrats to completely unify their own caucus, undermining their messaging strategy. 

Senior Democratic staffers have expressed frustration that much of the media coverage of the jobs bills has focused on the few Democratic defectors instead of Republican opposition. 

Centrist Republicans’ chief problem with the jobs bills is the way it is funded, with various tax increases on income over $1 million. 

Senate Democrats this fall lifted the income tax threshold in Obama’s plan from $250,000 annually for families to the $1 million mark. The amended version might have won over a few skeptical Democrats, but none on the other side of the aisle.

“I’m not sure I understand the mindset of being intractable and intransigent. If they truly wanted to be working on a bipartisan basis, why aren’t they willing to work with Republicans to figure out alternative offsets?” asked Snowe.

The Maine centrist, who has been targeted by Tea Party activists in the 2012 primary, said she could support ending tax breaks for oil and gas companies, or ethanol production. But she has balked at raising taxes on families earning over $1 million, which Republicans say would affect job-creating small businesses.

Snowe, a member of the Finance Committee, might support increasing taxes on income over $1 million, but argued it should be part of comprehensive reform of the tax code that ignites economic growth. 

“My concern is if we start using piecemeal aspects of the code to underwrite other parts of the budget that we’ll never get to the point of doing true tax reform,” she said. 

Kirk called the latest installment of the Obama jobs agenda “another partisan exercise.” 

He said his fellow centrist Republicans are more likely to support a national infrastructure bank that would be funded by a repatriation tax holiday. Kirk and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have teamed up on legislation to combine those proposals. 

“The Kirk-Schumer legislation will be more bipartisan,” said Kirk. 

“My hope is to get the mod squad on board,” he added, using a nickname for centrist Republicans. “The structure will be far more attractive to Republicans.”

A repatriation tax holiday would allow corporations to bring overseas profits back to the U.S. at a reduced tax rate. However, the Obama administration and House Democrats have raised major concerns about repatriation. 

McConnell signaled Tuesday that Republicans could join Democrats in boosting infrastructure funding if paid for in the right way.

“Infrastructure is pretty bipartisan and pretty popular. So I think at some point we’ll come together here,” McConnell said. “I can’t give you a precise answer at this point as to what I would support or oppose, but everyone knows we have a crumbling infrastructure.” 

McConnell said Republicans would offer an alternative infrastructure bill when Reid moves the Democratic jobs plan. Obama recently traveled to Kentucky to highlight the need to fix ailing bridges in McConnell’s home state.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), the panel’s ranking Republican, are close to a deal on a two-year $109 billion transportation authorization bill. They need to find an additional $12 billion in funding. 

Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), the upper chamber’s most conservative Democrat, said he would consider voting for the Democratic jobs bill, even though it raises taxes on income, an indication of the popularity of infrastructure spending in Congress. 

Nelson voted with Republicans to block the last two Democratic jobs bills. 

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who is not seeking reelection in 2012, said he would vote for the motion to begin debate on the Democrats’ infrastructure jobs bill but would not support its final passage. He has consistently opposed increasing income taxes.