On October 11, the Senate took a vote to end debate and move forward on the President’s full $447 billion jobs package, the American Jobs Act (S. 1660), modified, with his approval, by substituting a 5.6 percent tax on income above $1 million to pay for it. Cutting off debate requires 60 votes, which means a bipartisan majority. That does not appear to exist for a jobs bill, or for much of anything else in the 112th Congress. The American Jobs Act went down with a 50-49 vote. All Democrats except Senators Nelson (D-NE) and Tester (D-MT) supported it; all Republicans opposed it except Senator Coburn (R-OK), who was recovering from surgery. Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) also voted against it, only switching his vote to “No” in order to be able to call for reconsideration on the rare chance circumstances might change enough to result in passage.
With passage of the whole bill doomed, the Senate announced it would take up pieces of the legislation. The first vote scheduled was to save the jobs of teachers, other education staff, and first responders (firefighters and police). Split off from the AmericanJobs Act, this proposal became the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act (S. 1723), sponsored by Senator Menendez (D-NJ). Its $35 billion cost ($30 billion of which went to education personnel) was paid for by raising taxes on income over $1 million by a fraction of a percent.
In the past there had been bipartisan support for preventing teacher and first responder layoffs, but every Republican was willing to vote against this bill. In another vote to cut off debate, the bill failed, 50-50. This time the Democrats lost Senators Lieberman (I-CT), Nelson (D-NE), and Pryor (D-AR).
Future pieces of the jobs bill will be taken up, including employee (and perhaps employer) payroll tax cuts, continuation of federal unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed, and investment in infrastructure projects to provide jobs. Timing of these votes is not known, but the clock is running on federal unemployment insurance, which will be expire altogether by the end of December. Millions of the jobless will suddenly lose unemployment checks if Congress refuses to continue the program, a real blow to them and to the fragile economy, nearly two million in January 2012 alone, according to the National Employment Law Project.
Some of these provisions were probably included in the Democrats’ deficit reduction plan (see article in this issue of HNR), which was said to include job creation measures. The enactment of any of these proposals at this point seems captive to unified Republican opposition, but that may change, especially if public outrage over the unfair advantages of the top one percent over the other 99 percent of Americans continues to grow.