President Obama sent his jobs bill to Congress on Monday, urging lawmakers to put aside “political games” and pass the $447 billion plan meant to increase hiring as the government struggles to curtail persistent high unemployment.
But just two hours after Mr. Obama, flanked by firefighters, construction workers and teachers in the Rose Garden, waved a copy of the jobs plan and issued his call for bipartisanship, Republicans took aim at the White House plan to pay for the jobs initiative through tax increases on more affluent Americans, most of them tax increases previously rejected by lawmakers.
White House officials said they nonetheless believed the proposal could pass Congress. The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said administration officials had seen “some conciliatory messaging from some members of Congress” since lawmakers returned from their summer recess after presumably getting an earful from voters fed up with the political brinkmanship that characterized the negotiations over the debt ceiling.
“We have some indication that the message of the American people is being heard by members of Congress,” Mr. Carney said.
Congressional Republicans were not, however, sounding that conciliatory; they promptly fired off e-mails to let their displeasure with the idea of tax increases be known. “Beware the Tax Man,” was the subject line in an e-mail from one House Republican staff member. Brendan Buck, spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, added his own quick reaction, criticizing the proposal as one that “doesn’t appear to have been offered in that bipartisan spirit.”
In a news briefing with reporters on Monday, Representative Eric Cantor, the Virginia Republican and House majority leader, took pains to say that he was open to the president’s legislative proposals. But he made clear that if they are paid for primarily through tax increases, Republicans would not be going along.
“I sure hope that the president is not suggesting that we pay for his proposals with a massive tax increase at the end of 2012 on job creators,” Mr. Cantor said.
If Mr. Obama’s bill resembled the 2009 stimulus plan, he said, “I don’t believe that our members are going to be interested in pursuing that; I certainly am not.”
The White House budget director, Jack Lew, said the bulk of the plan — some $400 billion — would be paid for by limiting itemized deductions for charitable contributions and other deductions claimed by individuals making more than $200,000 a year and families making at least $250,000 annually. Another $40 billion would come from closing loopholes for oil and gas companies and $3 billion would come from additional taxes on corporate jets. Fund managers would pay $18 billion in higher taxes on certain income.
Mr. Lew said the new Congressional committee charged with finding $1.2 trillion in savings this year as part of the agreement to raise the debt ceiling would have the option of accepting the payment proposals submitted by Mr. Obama, or proposing new ones of their own.
The American Jobs Act, which the president unveiled Thursday, would cut some taxes through an extension and expansion of the current reduction in payroll taxes, worth $240 billion. Smaller businesses would also get a cut in their share of payroll taxes, as well as a tax holiday for hiring new workers. The plan also provides $140 billion for modernizing schools and repairing roads and bridges — spending that Mr. Obama says is critical to maintaining economic competitiveness.
The administration has pointed to forecasts from economists that the mix of tax cuts and new spending would spur growth and appreciably reduce the jobless rate. Mr. Carney on Monday declined to forecast the actual number of additional jobs that the White House anticipates could come if Congress enacts the jobs bill.
“On Thursday, I told Congress that I’ll be sending them a bill called the American Jobs Act,” Mr. Obama said during Rose Garden remarks on Monday morning, holding up the proposal. “Well, here it is.” He said that American voters could not afford to wait 14 months until the next election for lawmakers to act.
He sounded what is clearly going to be a central theme for this fall, as he strikes out into the country to sell his jobs proposal to Americans (he is going to Mr. Boehner’s home state, Ohio, on Tuesday in a visit to Columbus, and to Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday): “Let’s pass this bill,” Mr. Obama said several times during his remarks.
But while the president’s new mantra is “pass this bill now,” the legislation’s fate seems more along the lines of, pass some of this bill at some point, maybe.
Democrats in the Senate plan to try to move ahead with Mr. Obama’s bill, once its costs have been evaluated by the Congressional Budget Office, sometime over the course of the coming weeks. It is far from clear the bill can pass that chamber even with the Senate under Democratic control. A combination of Republicans put off by tax increases and Democrats who are in tough re-election battles could leave the measure short of the 60 votes needed to clear procedural obstacles.
Republicans will almost certainly not bring the White House bill to the floor of the House, where its chances for approval are even more remote. In fact, Mr. Cantor even found fault with Mr. Obama’s new mantra. “To say ‘pass my bill’ 17 times is not the tone nor is it a way forward for us that will be acceptable to the American people,” he said. And Mr. Boehner promised Monday that the proposal would receive vigorous Republican review.
Turning complaints Democrats have made all year about Republican unwillingness to compromise back on the White House, Congressional Republicans are now saying that Mr. Obama is being too inflexible, and that they will instead pick off pieces of the legislation to wind through their committees and come to possible separate votes. Those elements of his plan that could pass muster include the extension of a payroll tax holiday for employees and small businesses as well as an extension of unemployment benefits.