It’s been nearly two weeks since President Barack Obama urged a crowd of supporters in Denver to turn up the heat on lawmakers in Washington to pass his $447 billion jobs bill. So far on Capitol Hill, it’s gone nowhere.
That could change Tuesday when the Senate holds a vote on taking up the jobs legislation. But fierce Republican opposition both to the bill and how it’s paid for leaves slim prospects of it going any further.
For weeks, President Obama could not get even the Democrats in charge of the Senate to take up his jobs bill. Some of them had big problems with his plan to pay for it with tax hikes on households making more than a $250,000 a year.
So last week, New York Democrat Charles Schumer offered an alternative plan that significantly raised that income threshold. Schumer’s plan imposes a 5.6 percent surcharge only on those whose incomes are above a million dollars.
“In other words, 99 percent plus of American people will not have their taxes raised, nor should they,” Schumer said.
The decision to hit income only above a million dollars with a surcharge was a sharp break with a firmly-held Democratic belief: namely, that families making above $250,000 should pay higher taxes. But as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pointed out, two recent nationwide polls have shown three-out-of-four Americans believe it is fair to tax millionaires more.
“Wealthy Americans agree. Two-thirds of people making more than $1 million a year said they would gladly contribute more,” Sen. Reid said. “A supermajority of Republicans agree, with two-thirds saying they supported the idea.”
But that majority doesn’t include Senate Republicans. On Thursday, their leader, Mitch McConnell, accused Senate Democrats of making the jobs bill even more partisan with the surcharge on millionaires.
“The President has said it’s wrong to raise taxes in this weak economic environment. If he meant what he said, surely he’ll join me in opposing this unwise tax hike Senate Democrats have proposed,” McConnell said.
At a White House news conference 90 minutes later, President Obama gave a thumbs-up to the Democrats’ plan of boosting taxes on income beyond a million dollars, saying it was an approach he was comfortable with.
The president stuck to that populist stance in his weekly video address over the weekend: the wealthy, he said, do owe more to the rest of society.
“Some see this as class warfare. I see it as a simple choice,” Obama said. “We can either keep taxes exactly as they are for millionaires and billionaires, or we can ask them to pay at least the same rate as a plumber or a bus driver.”
On a lawn outside the House of Representatives last week, several hundred demonstrators, many in shirts with union logos, demanded that the GOP-led House take up the president’s jobs bill and pass it. A couple of days earlier, House Majority leader Eric Cantor had already declared it dead.
“The president continues to say, pass my bill, in its entirety, and as I’ve said from the outset, the all or nothing approach is just unacceptable,” Cantor said.
But in the Senate, it appears the new millionaires surcharge has prompted some doubting Democrats to get on board with the jobs bill, including Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu.
“I think this small increase in income tax for families that make over a million dollars is a better approach than taking away tax incentives for domestic oil and gas companies,” Landrieu said.
Not a single Senate Republican has come out in favor of the jobs bill, meaning it should be easy to filibuster. Even some Democrats remain opposed, like Nebraska’s Ben Nelson.
“I think we need to cut spending in this town and not raise taxes,” Nelson said.
Still, most Democrats feel hiking taxes on the wealthy is a winning issue, if not for passing the jobs bill, perhaps for next year’s elections.