The White House sought to reassure nervous Democrats about President Obama’s $447 billion jobs package Thursday, sending senior officials to brief the party’s Senate caucus about the proposal.
Afterward, lawmakers, administration officials and others present said the huddle went better than expected, given the resistance some Democrats have shown to the plan, and Tuesday’s losses in House special elections after GOP candidates won with anti-Obama campaigns.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the member of the Democratic leadership who has most frequently jousted with the White House, complimented senior Obama officials for taking 100 minutes of questions from the Senate Democrats.
“It was informative, we’re on the same page, we’re on the same team,” Schumer said. He acknowledged that senators “brought up their concerns” with the proposal but said they exited the meeting “unified.”
Senators heard presentations at a closed door briefing from Gene Sperling and senior advisor David Plouffe, who outlined the key points of the package of targeted tax cuts and infrastructure spending, members said.
“I think the key thing is we’re off to a great start in terms of getting excitement for the American Jobs Act,” Plouffe told reporters afterward. “The vast majority of our party is committed to showing that we’re going to act on jobs.”
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) called the meeting “very positive.”
“It was going through the package and the need for the package,” he said.
Even as Obama has been delivering a series of campaign-style speeches in support of his proposal, calling on the public to pressure Congress to pass the bill, some Democrats in Washington have been expressing reservations with the package.
Liberal members have fretted over the president’s proposal to cut the payroll tax, fearful of diverting money from the Social Security Trust fund. They say more direct government spending on infrastructure and salaries is needed to get the economy moving.
“I have been very unequivocal,” Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) told reporters Wednesday. “No more tax cuts. We have the economy that tax cuts gave us. And it’s pretty pathetic, isn’t it?”
Some conservative Democrats have said they support the tax cuts, but oppose spending billions on teacher salaries and to build schools and roads, as the president has proposed, when Congress is working to reduce the deficit.
“If spending money could fix our jobs problem, it would have been solved long ago — because we’ve sure done our share of spending,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a frequent critic of the president.
Obama’s suggestions for how to pay for the package have not been universally popular with Democrats either.
Democrats have previously rejected proposals from the White House to limit tax deductions to those making more than $250,000 a year. Opposition has not faded now that Obama has advanced the idea again to pay for the bulk of jobs plan.
“We’ve had mixed signals from the White House about the willingness to break apart the package. But I think for sure the pay-for has to be considered separately from the merits of the bill itself,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connnolly (D-Va.), who represents a wealthy Northern Virginia district and has long opposed such proposals.
Republicans spent Thursday gleefully pointing to the voices of Democratic dissent as a sign that the president’s bill does not have support of even his own party.
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) insisted Thursday that the criticism is minor. She noted that Democrats joined on the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday to rally in support of the measure.
“There may be somebody that’s told you or spoken out about this, but our caucus is very unified in support of the American Jobs Act and the fact that it is paid for,” she said. “They may differ with some of provisions within it or the paid fors, but they do not differ in the fact that we must get behind it, we must pass it.”