Shoring up Senate support for the American Jobs Act

Before proponents of the American Jobs Act can even think of the Republican-led House — Majority Leader Eric Cantor declared the bill “dead” earlier this week — they need to figure out a way to get majority support in the Democratic-led Senate. As we learned Tuesday, that’s not quite as easy as it should be.

Senate Democrats don’t seem to have any meaningful concerns about the job-creating provisions of the plan — infrastructure investments, tax breaks, saving public-sector jobs, etc. — but aren’t comfortable with financing. Most notably, senators like Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), won’t support a plan that eliminates tax subsidies for oil companies.

The job for Harry Reid and other Democratic leaders was to find a financing plan the caucus can support. They appear to have succeeded.

In proposing a 5 percent surtax on incomes of more than $1 million a year to pay for job-creation measures sought by President Obama, Senate Democratic leaders on Wednesday escalated efforts to strike a more populist tone and to draw Republicans into a confrontation over how much affluent Americans should pay to help others cope with a struggling economy. […]

The new plan, devised by the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, has a twofold purpose: to draw a sharp contrast with Congressional Republicans, who have dug in against any increases in tax rates, and to quell a revolt brewing among some Democrats who objected to parts of the White House plan.

After some additional intra-party discussions, the plan was tweaked just a little more — the surtax would be 5.6%; it would apply exclusively to millionaires and billionaires; and would take effect in 2013, not 2012. If approved, the measure would raise about $445 billion over 10 years, which would pay for just about every penny of the American Jobs Act.

Landrieu and Begich appeared pleased, which suggested Democrats could probably get 51 votes in the Senate for the jobs bill. Would support from the Democratic caucus be unanimous? Almost certainly not — Nebraska’s Ben Nelson and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin are likely to oppose any measure that raises taxes on anyone, even if the vast majority of Americans support the idea, especially since they’re both seeking re-election in conservative states next year.

But there are 53 Senate Dems, and the leadership is aiming for 51 votes.

The White House, by the way, considers the financing debate a sideshow, and doesn’t seem to much care how lawmakers pay for the bill.

Republicans will use Nelson’s and Manchin’s opposition to say there’s “bipartisan” opposition to creating jobs right now, and as a technical matter, that will be accurate. But it won’t change a simple truth: most of the Senate, like most of the country, supports the American Jobs Act, and it’s Republican obstructionism, not Democratic apprehension, that will block progress in the upper chamber.

Cantor responded to the plan by saying, “Most people in America think it’s counterintuitive to raise taxes if you want economic growth.” The oft-confused Majority Leader shouldn’t make up public attitudes that don’t exist — most people in America support raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires, and believe the tax change would boost the economy.

By all indications, the next step will be pressuring Senate Republicans to simply allow the chamber to vote, up or down, on the bill.