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Senate Blocks Two Parts of Obama’s Jobs Bill

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized a provision of the president’s jobs measure that would have provided $35 billion to save teaching and first responder jobs Thursday, saying a millionaire’s tax to pay for it would hurt small businesses. The Senate rejected the proposal Thursday night.

Two elements of President Barack Obama’s jobs bill failed on procedural votes when Senators tried to move them as individual measures late Thursday. The chamber then plunged ahead on a long series of votes on amendments to a package of three appropriations bills before advancing the measure, setting up a vote on passage for the week of Oct. 31.

A Democratic proposal to provide $35 billion to keep teachers and first responders from being laid off was the first portion of Obama’s $447 billion jobs proposal to receive an individual vote. It went down 50-50, short of the 60 needed for the Senate to take up the measure. Three Members of the Democratic Conference — Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) — joined all Republicans in opposing the procedural motion.

Democrats have argued that the bill would save roughly 300,000 educator jobs and about 100,000 first responder jobs.

“By supporting such jobs, the plan aims to keep communities safe from crime and able to maintain critical emergency response capabilities,” the White House said in a statement of administration policy.

The measure would have been paid for by a 0.5 percent tax on those making more than $1 million a year.

Republicans have argued that the offset would hurt small-business owners, who often report business income and losses on their personal tax returns, as the nation struggles with high unemployment, which was at 9.1 percent in September.

“Everybody in this body knows that the American people want us to do something about the jobs crisis,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. “What Republicans have been saying is that raising taxes on business owners isn’t the way to do it.”

The Senate also defeated a Republican proposal to take up legislation that would repeal a law requiring that federal, state and local governments withhold 3 percent of many payments to government contractors starting in 2013. The repeal effort is also part of Obama’s jobs bill.

The withholding law has been promoted as a way to narrow the tax gap and make delinquent companies pay their share of taxes, but opponents insist the provision would hurt businesses. The bill to repeal the law failed 57-43 on a procedural vote, winning fewer than the 60 votes needed for it to be taken up by the Senate. Ten Democrats joined all Republicans in voting in favor of taking up the bill.

“We’ve combed through the president’s latest stimulus bill looking for things we can actually support, for things that don’t punish the very people we’re counting on to create jobs,” McConnell said before the vote. “And it turns out there’s a very sensible provision in there that would help businesses across the country.

“This is money contractors may very well end up getting back from the IRS at some point long after the job is done, but in the meantime, the government gets to hold on to it instead of allowing the businesses to invest it in jobs and the economy,” he added.

The Republican bill would be offset by rescinding $30 billion from fiscal 2012 discretionary spending, a move that many Democrats oppose.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tried to seek unanimous consent to offer a Democratic alternative that would pay for the bill by repealing tax subsidies to oil companies, but McConnell objected to the vote.

In a statement of administration policy, the White House threatened to veto the bill.

“The bill’s unspecified rescission of $30 billion in appropriated funds would cause serious disruption in a range of services supported by the Federal Government,” the White House statement said. “The administration is committed to working with the Congress on a balanced approach to deficit reduction and is willing to work with the Senate to identify acceptable offsets for the budgetary costs associated with the repeal in [the bill] including but not limited to ones that are in the President’s detailed blueprint. If [the measure] is presented to the President with the current offset, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”

The Senate also took a major step toward completing work on the three spending bills packaged into one measure by voting to cut off debate on the legislation 82-16 early today. The package is made up of the Commerce, Justice and science; Agriculture, rural development, and Food and Drug Administration; and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations measures.

The Senate set up a final passage vote on the bill for the week of Halloween. The procedural vote was the last vote for the chamber before it recesses next week.

To date, the House has passed six of the 12 annual spending bills, while the Senate has passed only one. The new fiscal year began this month, but none of the appropriations bills has been enacted into law.

The federal government is currently operating on stopgap funding legislation that expires Nov. 18. Congress will need to work out compromise legislation that can pass in both chambers, but it may have to pass another short-term extension to allow more time to reach an agreement.

Correction: Oct. 21, 2011

Because the Senate reported the wrong tally for a cloture vote for cutting off debate to the pacakge, an earlier version of this story mistated the vote totals. It was 82-16.

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