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Obama jobs plan: Senate Democrats won’t take up bill immediately, Harry Reid says

Despite early and regular pleas from the White House, Senate Democrats say they will not move immediately to take up President Obama’s jobs bill when they return next week from a short recess.

“We’ll get to that,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday night when asked if the likely passage of a temporary spending bill to keep the government functioning meant the Senate could now consider the president’s package.

Obama visited a Denver high school Tuesday to again urge immediate congressional action on his package of tax cuts and incentive spending designed to spur job growth. The stop was part of a barnstorming tour of the country designed to put pressure on lawmakers.

“There is work to be done,” Obama said. “There are workers ready to do it. So let’s tell Congress: Pass this jobs bill right away.”

Given his urgency, Reid’s position has Republicans chortling that it is congressional Democrats who appear to be standing in the way of a quick vote on the president’s plan.

Reid, who is sponsoring the package in the Senate, said Monday the Senate will first take up debate next week on a bill to punish China and other nations for currency ma­nipu­la­tion.

“I don’t think there’s anything more important for a jobs measure than China trade, and that’s what we’re going to work on next week,” he said.

Work on the Chinese trade ma­nipu­la­tion measure has been on the back burner for months, and it has strong bipartisan support in the Senate, where leaders see it as a jobs protection bill that has a good chance of passage.

The Chinese currency measure has been particularly championed by Democratic Senators whose states have been hit hard by overseas outsourcing — and who will face tough reelection battles next year, including Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.).

“We understand that there’s conversations going on about the president’s jobs bill — which I support, I’m in agreement with,” Reid said. “We’ll get to that. But let’s get some of these things done that we have to get done first.”

Consideration of the president’s jobs plan, on the other hand, will probably be blocked by Senate Republicans. Once the whole package is put aside, Congress may move to consider separate pieces of the package — such as a payroll tax cut, as Republicans have urged.

A senior Senate Democratic aide insisted the decision to complete the Chinese currency measure first simply means the chamber will take up a bill that is likely to pass before it holds what will probably turn out to be a vote of political positioning on the jobs plan.

“There is a lot of interest in taking up the president’s plan. It’s seen as a bold, serious proposal that would make a serious dent in our unemployment problem,” said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss political strategy. “There is broad support in the Democratic caucus to take it up in the very near future.”

The aide predicted the Senate will debate the jobs plan sometime in October. The slight delay, he said, also fulfills a request from the White House that they be given time to sell the public on the package before it faces its first congressional vote.

“It was at the White House’s request that they be allowed an opportunity for the president to explain the details of the plan to the public,” the aide said.

White House senior adviser David Plouffe, appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, also predicted a Senate vote on the plan in October.

“We’re going to keep making the case,” he said.

Some Republicans believe the Senate’s failure to fast-track the president’s plan to the top of the agenda is a sign the bill does not have full Democratic support. Several Democratic lawmakers have been critical of elements of the plan. Some have said they oppose Obama’s proposals to further cut payroll taxes. Others have said they do not like how Obama suggests paying for the plan, including ending subsidies for oil and gas companies and limiting deductions for upper-income individuals.

“While we continue to hope that we can work with the president on policies that will help create jobs, his much-touted proposal at this point faces bipartisan resistance,“ said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.

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