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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moved quickly to shore up support in his Democratic caucus for President Barack Obama's jobs bill Wednesday, announcing it would come to the Senate floor shortly and be paid for by a surtax on millionaires.
Reid's decision to pay for the $447 billion package with a 5.6 percent surtax on income of more than $1 million starting in 2013 gives Democrats a poll-tested package that most can run on for the next year — even though the surtax itself is dead on arrival with Republicans.
Indeed, Reid appears to be setting the stage for a major floor battle that will raise the specter of "class warfare" and Obama recently called himself a "warrior for the middle class." Democrats have been feeling less vulnerable on the issue of raising taxes on the rich because recent polls, such as an Oct. 3 CBS News poll, have shown that two-thirds or more of Americans believe millionaires should pay more into federal coffers.
Still, Reid predicted "most all" — though not all — Democrats would support it.
For example, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has said he would vote to block any bill containing a tax increase — and others have also been skittish about tax hikes.
The announcement came less than a day after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sought a vote on Obama's original package, with the intended purpose of killing it quickly and exploiting divisions among Democrats over how to pay for the plan.
McConnell's maneuver forced Democrats to accelerate their timetable for crafting a specific package, lest they get blamed for blocking a vote and mess up their general attack line that "do-nothing" Republicans are thwarting the president.
Reid said at a press conference that the millionaire tax has broad, bipartisan support across the country. "Seventy-five percent of Republicans support this tax," Reid said. "The problem is none of them are in the Senate."
Reid said that if Republicans cling to their no-new-taxes mantra, "they are not keeping in touch with their constituents."
If Republicans block the bill, they will be putting "tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires ahead of our economic recovery," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the party's messaging chief. Schumer said the White House was "fine" with the millionaire tax instead of the assortment of tax increases that it originally proposed.
Schumer said drawing the line at $1 million "is the right thing to do," instead of Obama's original proposal to tax couples making more than $250,000 a year. Citing a rationale Republicans have used in the past, Schumer said there are too many struggling small-business owners with incomes of less than $1 million and many people making $250,000 a year who "are not rich" in many parts of the country.