Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry said Tuesday that he doesn’t expect President Obama’s jobs proposal to pass Congress all in one piece.
“I don’t think anybody expects it to pass en bloc,” Kerry told reporters Tuesday afternoon after the Senate Democrats’s weekly policy luncheon. “So, the issue is going to be what, if any, parts of it might be cherry-picked. And really that depends a lot on the overall mix of the negotiation.”
The statement by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and member of the bipartisan 12-member debt supercommittee comes as the White House has opened the door to a piecemeal approach toward the $447 billion plan, which administration officials had earlier said should be passed whole.
Asked about the White House’s new openness to a piecemeal approach, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — who on Tuesday morning blasted Obama’s proposal as a second stimulus that would be paid for by tax increases — said that the White House’s pay-fors remain objectionable to congressional Republicans.
“At the risk of repeating myself, we’re happy to take a look at his recommendations that we heard the other night,” McConnell said at a news conference after Senate Republicans’s policy luncheon. “I don’t think that the pay-fors are going to go anywhere, because we know that these are not new ideas. The pay-fors have all been around the track before, and there is bipartisan opposition to every one of them.”
But McConnell did suggest that there were some areas of potential agreement, particularly on the issue of the payroll tax cut extension.
“As part of a compromise last December, we agreed to the payroll tax deduction for employees,” McConnell said. “(Obama) has suggested adding employers to that. That’s something that we agreed to in the context of an overall compromise last December — the employee part — to extend the current tax rates for two more years. We understand compromises will be made; there’s no way to work the deal here today, and I’m not going to suggest any particular ways in which we might be able to put all this together. But we’ll take a look at it.”
The remarks from Kerry and McConnell came hours after the bipartisan debt-reduction committee held its second public meeting.
Kerry said that the twelve members of the panel might hold their next meeting later this week, although it was unclear from his remarks whether it would be held behind closed doors or open to the public.
“We are having a meeting of the twelve — sort of our first real discussion meeting — I hope soon,” Kerry said. “I think it was supposed to be Thursday but it may not be.”
Members of the supercommittee are working to arrange a meeting in a private setting Thursday night, according to a Democratic aide who was not authorized to speak publicly about the panel’s schedule.
Ultimately, Kerry said, the debt supercommittee is aiming to produce a proposal by “basically the end of October,” and he suggested that the panel’s members have already begun the process of negotiating on the contours of a deal.
“In our discussions, we’ve all understood that we’re working in a sprint here — a very tight timeframe,” he said. “We’re beginning negotiating now. We’re not just going to have hearings and then negotiate; we are negotiating now. A lot of discussions are taking place — one-on-one, quietly, whatever — and different people are now pulling together different proposals, and we need to just get together and negotiate.”
Obama has urged the panel to find additional deficit savings beyond its $1.5 trillion mandate in order to help pay for his jobs proposal, and the supercommittee could well take up some parts of the jobs proposal itself in its final recommendation, which is due by Thanksgiving. But Kerry said Tuesday that while he personally supported Obama’s plan, he wasn’t certain yet whether the will existed among the committee’s 12 members to take up any parts of the proposal.
“Well, I don’t know if it will, honestly,” Kerry said when asked whether the committee would take up parts of the jobs package. “To be truthful with you, I can’t tell you that there’s an appetite among a lot of the Republicans for large parts of it. And I can’t tell you yet; I can’t begin dissecting it. So, I’m not going to speculate publicly.”
He also said that the committee and the president must serve different roles when it comes to the jobs proposal.
“I think the president has to fight for a plan. ... But we’re in a different negotiating position on this committee,” Kerry said. “And I don’t want to lock myself or the committee or any of us into a place where we are increasing partisanship. We have to minimize the partisanship, and so the president has to do what he needs to do; we have to do what we need to do.”