This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 13, 2011 - WASHINGTON - When President Barack Obama asked a joint session of Congress last month to end the "political circus" and pass a bill he called the American Jobs Act, he set a new circus in motion.
The initial act of that political show ended on Tuesday evening, when Senate Democrats were unable to advance a revised version of Obama's plan, but succeeded in getting Republicans on record as opposing a "jobs bill" that would have included a new tax surcharge on millionaires.
At the other end of the circus, Senate Republicans -- describing the measure as a "so-called jobs bill" -- kept demanding a vote on the original version of the American Jobs Act, which both sides knew would not pass, even though Obama has traveled around the country urging Congress to vote on it.
In the end, the vote on the revised jobs bill fell pretty much along party lines, with Democrats nine votes short of the 60 needed to stop a filibuster. Support for the bill ranged from staunch advocates like Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to apparently lukewarm advocates such as Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., skeptical opponents like Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and harsh critics including Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Describing the jobs plan as "historically important," Durbin -- the Senate's second-ranking Democrat -- said action was essential or the economy would "languish or decline." He alleged that Senate Republicans "will not countenance, approve or even consider one dollar more in taxes for the wealthiest people in America" to pay for the jobs plan, which would offer payroll tax cuts to individuals and businesses.
"They are prepared to oppose any ideas coming from the Obama administration -- even ideas that they have conceived and voted for in the past," Durbin said in a Senate speech.
But Blunt said "the so-called 'jobs bill' was defeated tonight because my colleagues on both sides of the aisle understand it doesn't make economic sense to raise taxes on job creators while Americans are looking for work and our nation is facing record debt."
Blunt said he and other Republicans were open to other proposals that aim to boost jobs -- such as the free-trade pacts with Korea, Columbia and Panama that the Senate was primed to approve Wednesday night -- but would not back "a second stimulus warmed over after the first bill failed to create private-sector jobs." He also said the proposed tax surcharge on millionaires would mostly hit business owners "who are looking for more certainty in order to create more American jobs."
McCaskill said she backed the revised jobs bill with the millionaires' surcharge because it would at least be a step toward creating more jobs. "This plan won't solve all of our economic problems, but it would be a step in the right direction," she said in a statement.
"Right now, there are businesses that need some help and there are Missourians in need of jobs," McCaskill added. "We can put a little extra money in the pockets of American workers and give small businesses a boost."
In a conference call Wednesday, McCaskill also lambasted Republican lawmakers for being intransigent on the jobs bill. "So far, it appears that most of them are more concerned about denying the president a victory on his jobs bill than they are about whether or not we're putting people back to work tomorrow."
For his part, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., told journalists he voted no because "we need to work out a bipartisan policy." He is open to several job-creation initiatives, including approval of the free-trade pacts and the extension of payroll tax cuts. But he asks: "Should we pass a 'Stimulus 2' if 'Stimulus 1' didn't work?" -- a reference to the economic stimulus bill approved in 2009.
"The president's second stimulus proposal continues the same failed policies that have done little to improve our economy," Kirk said in a statement to the Beacon. "Instead, he should pursue more bipartisan plans that have a chance of passing the Congress, such as the free trade agreements agreed to tonight, regulatory relief and pro-growth tax reform."
Now that the jobs bill has stalled in the Democrat-controlled Senate, it is likely that it will be broken into pieces that can be combined with Republican proposals to gain congressional approval. The White House has said it will cooperate in an effort to get some legislation passed to address the nation's 9.1 percent unemployment rate.
According to a White House analysis, there was quite a bit in the Jobs Act for Missouri and Illinois. It is possible that some of those proposals will be preserved in whatever compromise emerges.
Meanwhile, Blunt and McCaskill were able to agree in opposing another initiative: a bipartisan bill that targets China's alleged manipulation of its currency to foster its trade. The Senate passed the bill 63-35 on Tuesday, in spite of warnings from free-trade groups that it could cause a trade war and hurt the global economy.
Both Blunt and McCaskill voted no, with Blunt explaining that the bill "serves no purpose other than to further complicate our trading position." After the China currency vote, McCaskill said in a statement that she "crossed the aisle and joined Sen. Blunt on this vote because of one reason: jobs."
McCaskill explained: "This legislation might make for good messaging and addresses an issue worthy of attention -- but it would put hundreds of potential Missouri jobs in jeopardy, for a bill that's not going to become law. That's something we can't afford in Missouri right now."