Obama, Democrats turn up heat on Republicans over jobs
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With one eye on the 2012 elections, President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats said on Wednesday that they will force votes on individual pieces of their job-creation package in Congress to convince voters they are a better choice than Republicans to boost the economy.
"We will keep organizing and we will keep voting until this Congress finally meets its responsibilities," Obama said, a day after Republicans blocked the $447 billion plan in the Senate.
One of the party's top strategists said further legislative defeats on the individual components of the Obama package could end up helping Democratic prospects in next year's presidential and congressional elections.
"The idea that Republicans seem to want to block everything and have no ideas, that Tea Party economics is dominating what they do, I think will bode very well for us in 2012," Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said.
Obama's re-election chances next year may hinge on whether he can convince voters he is helping the U.S. economy dig out from the worst recession since the 1930s with unemployment stuck above 9 percent since May.
Democrats also face tough odds as they try to hold on to their Senate majority and win back the House of Representatives from Republicans.
Democrats have spent much of the year playing defense as Republicans aligned with the conservative Tea Party movement have won record spending cuts in a series of budget battles.
With the recovery stalling, Democrats have shifted the focus from austerity back to stimulus, where they believe they hold a winning hand.
Obama has spent the past month barnstorming around the country touting the jobs bill. His campaign team on Tuesday released a memo that showed support for Democratic job-creation efforts has increased over the past month. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on Wednesday found that 63 percent of respondents support the bill when it is described to them.
The bill's defeat has given Democrats new ammunition.
"Republican obstructionism has once again cost this nation millions of jobs," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor. "It seems as if Republicans don't really want to put Americans back to work.
Republicans say Obama is more interested in demonizing them than working together on economic measures that can actually pass Congress.
"As we all know, that doesn't fit in with the president's reelection strategy. The White House has made it clear that the president is praying for gridlock," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said.
Republicans have coalesced around a job-creation agenda of their own centered on rolling back pollution rules and other regulations on business.
DETAILS UNCLEAR SO FAR
Senate Democrats said they have not determined yet which pieces of Obama's defeated bill they will bring up for a vote starting next month, or whether they will be paired with tax increases on the wealthy or other tax hikes to offset the cost. They may offer ideas of their own as well.
Republicans in the past have backed some components of the package, such as a payroll tax cut but have suggested they may not do so again. Payroll taxes, paid by every U.S. worker, are set to rise at the end of 2011 if Congress does not act, which could create additional headwinds for the struggling economy.
Republicans are certain to reject other components, such as $120 billion in new spending to rebuild schools and highways and avoid layoffs of teachers and other public employees.
Democrats face internal opposition. Two senators facing re-election in Republican-leaning states -- Jon Tester of Montana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska -- voted against the bill on Tuesday. Three others said they opposed major pieces of it.
The Republican tasked with winning control of the Senate next year said Democrats could alienate independent voters if they continue to press their job-creation proposals.
"I think it's a fantasy to suggest that some of this class warfare stuff is somehow going to attract independents and people you need to win the election," said Republican Senator John Cornyn.
Schumer said he might pair one element Republicans do not like -- an infrastructure bank to fund construction projects -- with a repatriation measure that would allow multinational firms to bring earnings back to the United States tax-free, an idea backed by Republican allies in the business community.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro and Matt Spetalnick; editing by Deborah Charles and Cynthia Osterman)
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