As expected, Senate Republicans blocked the state fiscal aid bill that would have put as much as 400,000 teachers and public safety officials back to work. All 47 Senate Republicans voted against cloture on the motion to proceed on the bill. In addition, three members of the Democratic caucus said no. We knew that Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson would be no votes, but Mark Pryor also decided that a 0.5% surtax on every dollar over $1,000,000 for
Sam Walton and the Walton family wealthy Americans was too much to ask. This means that the final tally on the bill was 50-50. In a sane world where majority rules, Vice President Biden would have cast the tie-breaker and 400,000 teachers and fire fighters and cops would have jobs to look forward to. As it is, the Senate is an undemocratic institution, and states still suffering with depressed tax revenues will have to continue the rounds of layoffs that have been a lead weight on the economy. Or maybe the states can just stop serving lunch to prisoners on the weekends like they’re doing in Texas.
Republicans, seeking a talking point, forced a vote of their own last night, on another, more obscure aspect of the American Jobs Act. For some reason, President Obama inserted a provision that would delay the 3% withholding rule for large government contractors. Here’s the NYT to explain that:
The provision, adopted in 2006, requires federal, state and local government agencies to deduct and withhold 3 percent of payments they make to many suppliers of goods and services. The requirement was adopted after federal auditors found that thousands of government contractors had substantial amounts of unpaid federal taxes.
Democrats supported the intent of the bill, but blocked its consideration because it would also require unspecified cuts in spending for domestic programs [...]
Enforcement of the requirement has been delayed several times. As part of his jobs bill, Mr. Obama proposed a further delay, to 2014. Businesses say the withholding will disrupt their cash flow and cause administrative headaches.
Scott Brown called this an unfunded mandate. It’s actually an insurance policy on tax cheats. The IRS is too cash-strapped to find every tax cheat, and it turns out that government contractors make up a large pool of them. A 2007 Government Accountability Office reporte showed that contractors cheated the government out of $8 billion. The CBO estimates $30 billion in revenue collection off of the 3% rule because of compliance with the law. The Republican plan here is to allow tax cheating to go on without the federal government using any of its leverage.
And that got more votes than keeping teachers and public safety workers on the job! It failed to clear cloture but got 57 votes. And it might have passed if the pay-for wasn’t domestic spending cuts. Why that provision delay was in the American Jobs Act, as if it would create jobs to simply allow businesses to cheat on their taxes, is beyond me.
All of the rallying by President Obama and Vice President Biden on the jobs measures, then, went to naught. They got part of what they wanted: more evidence of obstructionism by the GOP. The American public got nothing.
Incidentally, the Senate did some other actual legislating last night. They confirmed John Bryson as the Secretary of Commerce; that nomination had been threatened by Republicans over Bryson’s environmental record. In addition, there were a number of amendments to the “minibus,” a collection of three appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2012. The Senate voted to end federal payments to farmers with incomes over $1 million, voted against a ban on Article III trials of terror suspects, and voted for an extension of a higher threshold for federally backed mortgage loans. This was part of an all night vote-a-rama on the minibus, which did pass a final cloture vote.
UPDATE: Matt Yglesias reminds me that Senate Republicans blocked Bryson for Commerce Secretary because of the free trade agreements. So with their passage, they gave up on the obstruction and went ahead with the Bryson nomination.
UPDATE II: Might as well add the President’s full statement on the vote:
For the second time in two weeks, every single Republican in the United States Senate has chosen to obstruct a bill that would create jobs and get our economy going again. That’s unacceptable. We must do what’s right for the country and pass the common-sense proposals in the American Jobs Act. Every Senate Republican voted to block a bill that would help middle class families and keep hundreds of thousands of firefighters on the job, police officers on the streets, and teachers in the classroom when our kids need them most.
Those Americans deserve an explanation as to why they don’t deserve those jobs – and every American deserves an explanation as to why Republicans refuse to step up to the plate and do what’s necessary to create jobs and grow the economy right now.
We must rebuild the economy the American way and restore security for the middle class, based on the values of balance and fairness. Independent economists have said the American Jobs Act could create up to two million jobs next year. So the choice is clear. Our fight isn’t over. We will keep working with Congress to bring up the American Jobs Act piece by piece, and give Republicans another chance to put country before party and help us put the American people back to work.