Obama pushes on jobs bill while Congress goes slow

President Obama has been touring the country, repeating a message for Congress about his jobs plan: “Pass this bill.” On Tuesday, in Denver, he said it seven times.

It still doesn’t seem to be working.

On Capitol Hill, the Republican-led House appears unlikely to take up Obama’s bill soon — if ever. Party leaders want to break up his ideas and farm them out to slow-moving committees for consideration.

And even in the Democratic-led Senate, party leaders have shown little urgency about taking up Obama’s “American Jobs Act.” On Thursday, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), said the leadership simply lacked the votes to pass it.

“Not at the moment, I don’t think we do,” Durbin told WLS radio in Chicago. “But, uh, we can work on it.”

On Friday, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, said it was “premature” to say that Democrats lacked the votes.

“We’re working really hard to get the votes to pass the president’s” bill, Schumer said in a conference call with reporters. He indicated that one problem might be Obama’s suggestions for how to pay for his job-creation ideas: “We’re actively exploring alternatives that may garner more support.”

In the short term, the flat reaction from Capitol Hill seems to show that Obama’s bill will remain a political statement — with little chance of becoming law.

In the long term, the contrast between Obama and Congress on this issue could signal a broader divergence in the campaigning styles of Obama and Senate Democrats. Both are trying to hold on to power in 2012.

But Obama, for now, seems to have chosen an aggressive strategy — pushing new ideas, and calling out those who oppose him. Senate Democrats, on the other hand, have focused on local concerns, and they avoid votes that might inflame voters who have tilted rightward.

If Obama’s strategy is to get mad, the Senate Democrats’ strategy is to make as few people mad as possible. That leads them to see a sweeping jobs bill in two very different lights.

The president’s $447 billion jobs package calls for a reduction in payroll taxes for both employees and employers and increased spending on infrastructure. It also proposes changes in unemployment benefits, designed to make it cheaper for new employers to hire someone without a job.

It would be paid for, in part, by ending some tax loopholes for oil and gas companies, and by limiting itemized tax deductions for people making more than $200,000 per year.

“The oil-producing-state senators don’t like eliminating or reducing the subsidy for oil companies, “ Durbin said, according to WLS. “There are some senators who are up for election who say ‘I’m never going to vote for a tax increase while I’m up for election, even on the wealthiest people.’ So, we’re not going to have 100 percent Democratic senators.”

In the House, it has been introduced as a bill by Rep. John B. Larson (D-Conn.). In the Senate, the bill has been introduced by Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Neither bill has attracted any co-sponsors.

And, earlier this week, Reid said that the Senate would not take up the bill when it returns from a short recess. Instead, it would first take up a measure to punish China and other nations for currency ma­nipu­la­tion. That bill, in keeping with the Democrats’ strategy, is meant to help several individual senators in manufacturing states, where competition from China is blamed for local job losses.

What about the jobs bill? “We’ll get to that,” Reid told reporters.

So far, the White House has been unwilling to concede that the bill’s chances of becoming law are slim. On Thursday, press secretary Jay Carney said he would buy every reporter in the briefing room a drink if Congress had not taken action on the bill by year’s end.

“I utterly reject your premise,” Carney said, when a reporter said Obama’s bill had little chance of success on the Hill. “Members of Congress will have a lot of explaining to do when they go home at the end of the year if they’ve done nothing, nothing to address the urgent need to help our economy and create jobs. . . . Their constituents are demanding it.”

David A. Fahrenthold covers Congress for the Washington Post. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered (in order) the D.C. police, New England, and the environment.
David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.
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