U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins on Tuesday joined 44 of their Republican colleagues to block President Barack Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan.
A majority of senators voted to support the American Jobs Act, but the margin was well shy of the 60 votes required to move the legislation forward and avoid a Republican filibuster. The result wasn’t surprising, given Republicans’ widespread opposition to a bill that could boost Obama’s re-election bid.
Tuesday’s vote was only procedural. However, Democratic leadership’s inability to prevent the defection of two Democratic senators to the GOP tossed a wrench into the administration’s attempts to pin the defeat on the Republican minority.
The bill, referred to by some economists as another stimulus package, combined tax breaks for workers and new federal spending to hire teachers and upgrade transportation infrastructure. Economists predicted the plan would add 1.9 million jobs and increase domestic product by 2 percent.
The Obama administration sought to drum up support by localizing the bill’s projected impact. In Maine, the administration claimed the bill would result in cutting the payroll tax in half for 30,000 Maine companies, would provide $138.7 million in infrastructure investment and would prevent the layoffs of teachers, firefighters and police officers.
The administration estimated that the transportation and school infrastructure investment could result in more than 5,000 local jobs.
In addition, Maine households with median incomes of about $48,000 each would receive a tax cut of about $1,490.
Collins, in a written statement, said some elements in the bill “could garner overwhelming bipartisan support,” including the payroll tax deductions and incentives to hire military veterans.
However, Collins said, the administration’s “take it or leave it” proposition in an effort to score political points persuaded her to vote against the bill. She added that the administration also changed the bill to retain “sweetheart tax breaks for the five biggest oil and gas companies.”
Collins also hinted that the bill should include steps to get rid of burdensome regulations, a position held by her GOP colleagues.
Collins didn’t mention one portion of the bill that had generated widespread debate, a 5.6 percent surtax on the income of millionaires. The proposal prompted some GOP leaders to claim Obama was engaging in class warfare.
Recent polling suggests the GOP’s position is counter to popular opinion. Last month, a Gallup survey found that 66 percent of respondents favored increasing taxes on people earning more than $200,000 a year, while 70 percent favored increasing taxes on some corporations and closing some tax loopholes.
The findings were similar to other national polls.
The Gallup survey also found that respondents strongly supported several elements of Obama’s jobs bill, including tax cuts and hiring incentives for small businesses (85 percent support) and tax breaks for companies that hire people unemployed for more than six months (73 percent).
Snowe, also in a written statement, said the administration’s surtax on “job creators” could hinder job growth. She said 41 percent of all business income reported on individual returns would be affected by the surtax.
“With U.S. economic growth slowing, unemployment still above 9 percent and the looming threat of a global economic downturn, we should not saddle our already fragile economy with tax increases on job creators,” Snowe said.
She said the amended bill would enact permanent tax increases to pay for temporary spending programs.
Prior to Tuesday evening’s vote, the administration expressed a willingness to break off portions of the Jobs Act that could win bipartisan support. It’s not clear which provisions will move forward, but some could require Democrats to embrace the GOP’s call for regulatory reform.
Snowe advocated for the latter. Earlier this year, she and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., sponsored legislation that required federal agencies to review regulations that significantly affect small businesses. The Senate voted 53-46 in favor of the measure, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., introduced a parliamentary maneuver that required 60 votes for passage.
Reid’s willingness to reconsider Snowe’s so-called Freedom Act could play into the senator’s willingness to support future elements of Obama’s jobs bill.
“Removing needless red tape and inefficient bureaucratic barriers to job creation is one sure-fire way to promote economic growth nationwide,” Snowe said. “But the longer we dither on this issue, the longer our economy will continue to stagnate.”
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said the senators showed with their votes that they don’t care about working and middle-class Mainers. He said they “toed the party line in an effort to appeal to the radical tea party base and wealthy campaign contributors.”
He added, “If their ‘no’ votes aren’t a slap in the face to all of the struggling Mainers who are out of jobs, fearful of losing their jobs, or just aren’t able to find enough work to get by, I don’t know what is.”
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