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Jobs Bill Fight Continues after Senate Defeat

9:10 AM, Oct 13, 2011   |    comments
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By Alan Silverleib, CNN

WASHINGTON, DC -- Partisan bickering over President Barack Obama's failed $447 billion jobs plan intensified Wednesday, with Republicans accusing Democrats of political gamesmanship and Democrats charging Republicans with costly obstructionism.

The measure failed to get the 60 votes necessary to advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate Tuesday night. Top Democrats have indicated they will now try to break the measure up into several smaller bills, but it remains unclear what -- if anything -- is capable of winning approval in a Congress completely divided along partisan and ideological lines.

The latest stalemate takes place against the backdrop of a looming campaign that appears increasingly likely to degenerate into a political blame game over the shaky economy.

"Republican obstructionism has once against cost this nation millions of jobs," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said Wednesday morning. "It seems as if Republicans don't really want to put Americans back to work. They believe a weak economy means a weak president."

If Obama "were willing to work with us on more bipartisan legislation like this, nobody would even be talking about a dysfunctional Congress," countered Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

"But as we all know that doesn't fit in with the president's re-election strategy. The White House has made it clear that the president is praying for gridlock, so he has somebody -- besides himself -- to point the finger at next November."

Over in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, promised Wednesday he would try to "find common ground" with the administration on a jobs program. But one of Boehner's top lieutenants, Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, warned that Republicans will continue to fight any tax hikes on wealthier Americans -- one of the key sticking points in the current debate.

"If the president wants to increase taxes on job creators, we will oppose that," Hensarling said.

For his part, Obama said Wednesday that he will continue to pressure Congress to pass the bill.

"A lot of folks ... will look at last night's vote and say that's it, let's move on to the next fight," the president told a group of Latino leaders in Washington. "But I've got news for them: Not this time. Not with so many Americans out of work. ... We will not take 'No' for an answer."

Democrats may begin pushing for formal congressional consideration of specific provisions in the package as early as the end of the month, according to one Democratic aide.

Among other things, Obama's overall blueprint includes an extension and expansion of the current payroll tax cut, an extension of jobless benefits, new tax credits for businesses that hire the long-term unemployed, and additional money to help save and create jobs for teachers and first responders such as firefighters.

The largest measure in the package is the payroll tax cut, which comes at a projected cost of $265 billion. Employees normally pay 6.2% on their first $106,800 of wages into Social Security, but they are now paying only 4.2%. That break is set to expire at the end of December, and Obama wants to cut the tax in half, to 3.1%.

Republicans previously embraced the cut, but have increasingly questioned its economic merit.

A second key measure -- estimated to cost roughly $44 billion -- is the extension of emergency jobless benefits to help the long-term unemployed. Lawmakers first expanded benefits to cover 99 weeks in 2009, and have since reauthorized the expansion five times.

Republicans are at particularly sharp odds with Democrats over how to pay for the plan. GOP leaders oppose a provision that would fund the measure through a 5.6% surtax on annual incomes over $1 million. Republicans have accused the president of engaging in so-called "class warfare," while Democrats argue wealthier Americans need to share in cost of fiscal responsibility.

CNN

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