There was only one rather embarrassing problem: his $447 billion proposal was blocked in the Senate—by his fellow Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stepped up to stop a vote in the Senate on the president’s measure, which had been requested by an obviously satisfied Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, because both men knew what the president cannot or will not admit— that he does not have enough votes within his own party, let alone from Republicans, to pass the bill he’s been hyping for weeks.
The last-minute move by Reid saved Obama from the immediate embarrassment of losing a battle inside the family, but it highlighted the gulf between Obama and Congressional Democrats, who now operate almost entirely apart from the White House and have, in many cases, decided that supporting their unpopular president today is not worth losing their own jobs next November.
McConnell launched his surprise attack in the afternoon, when it had become clear that a vote on the bill would produce at least a handful of no’s from moderate Democrats, who object to tax increases in the bill, especially on oil companies, and a few liberals who have insisted for months that the president increase at least some taxes on millionaires to begin to close the budget gap and finance jobs measures.
“What I am trying to do here today by requesting this vote on the president’s jobs bill is to honor the request of the president of the United States that we vote on it now,” McConnell said with a smile. “He has been asking us repeatedly over the last few weeks that we vote on it now.”
Reid stepped in to call McConnell’s move “ridiculous,” a “charade” and a “stunt,” but even he acknowledged that some Democrats would stray from the president’s measure.
Reid promised that he would bring the bill up in some form, sometime this month. That’s hardly a commitment to deliver the bill the president wants, but is as much as Reid can produce from a caucus peppered with incumbents from red and swing states, where Obama’s approval ratings are sinking like a stone.
In West Virginia, for example, the president has sunk to an abysmal 28 percent approval rating, dragging down the fortunes of the state’s two Democratic senators and Democratic governor.
His ratings in the home states of other key incumbents aren’t much better. In Montana, where Sen. Jon Tester is up for reelection, Obama has a 39 percent approval rating. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s Missouri has the president at 41 percent, while he is underwater in Sen. Ben Nelson’s Nebraska, with 44 percent.
Sen. Dick Durbin shed some light on those Democrats’ thinking last week, when he admitted the Obama bill is a no-go in its current form.
“There are some senators who are up for election who say I’m never gonna vote for a tax increase while I’m up for election, even on the wealthiest people. So, we’re not gonna have 100 percent Democratic senators,” he told WLS radio. “That’s why it needs to be bipartisan and I hope we can find some Republicans who will join us to make it happen.”
By Tuesday night, Reid had floated the idea among Senate Democrats of changing Obama’s proposal to pay for the bill by swapping out the White House’s idea to cap itemized deductions for people making more than $200,000, and replacing it with a surtax on millionaires and billionaires, a hugely popular idea among liberals that Obama has touted frequently, but never put into legislation.
Whether that bill could actually pass the Senate is also in doubt, but one Senate Democratic aide said it would at least have the benefit (for some) of making Republicans look bad for opposing a bill specifically named to sell with voters— “The American Jobs Act.”
“Reid will modify the bill to either make it easier for some Republicans to vote for it, or make it a better messaging event against those Republicans who vote against it,” the aide said. “Should be a lot of fun in any case.”