Senate Democrats aim to force vote on jobs bill
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's fellow Democrats in the Senate proposed a bill on Monday to enact into law a portion of his popular $447 billion jobs program that Republicans blocked last week.
The Democrats' bill would create or save, at a cost of $35 billion, 300,000 education jobs and another 100,000 jobs for firefighters, police officers and other first-responders, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat.
Reid said he wants to get a Senate vote on the bill as early as this week to underscore the battle over the weak U.S. economy that features a stubbornly high 9.1 percent unemployment rate.
But aides said Republicans, who accuse Obama of political gimmicks, may prevent a vote until at least the first week in November when the Senate is set to return from an upcoming seven-day recess.
Reid threatened to delay the Senate recess if he senses that Republicans are dragging their feet.
"I am happy to keep the Senate in session as long as needed to make sure we get a vote on this jobs bill," Reid said in a conference call with reporters.
Regardless when it is held, Democrats are expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed in the 100-member chamber to clear a procedural hurdle. Democrats control the chamber 53-47.
Republican Senator John McCain took the floor of his chamber to promote the jobs bill he and fellow Senate Republicans offered last week.
"The difference between our plan and theirs is that we want to create jobs through growth and they want to create jobs through government spending," McCain said.
The Senate Republicans' bill features a fresh call for tax reform and cuts as well as a number of components previously proposed, but has stalled in the Democratic-led Senate.
They include steps to: require a balanced budget; repeal Obama's overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system; and lift prohibitions on offshore energy exploration.
Obama and Senate Democrats agreed to break the president's plan into pieces last week after Republicans blocked the overall bill.
Democrats want to build pressure on Republicans to back at least portions of the bill or explain to voters in advance of next year's elections why they oppose it. On Monday Obama began a bus tour of North Carolina and Virginia to promote his jobs plan.
A Wall Street Journal-NBC poll last week showed that Americans support the president's jobs bill by a 2-1 ratio.
Obama's overall proposal was designed to create an estimated 2 million jobs with a mixture of stimulus spending and tax cuts for the middle class and small businesses. The plan would be financed by a 5.7 percent surtax on millionaires.
Republicans opposed the bill, saying a tax increase would hurt rather than spur economic growth. Two Senate Democrats facing tough re-elections in largely conservative states also opposed the bill in a procedural vote last week.
Obama's Democrats have painted Republicans as obstructionists who care more about defeating the president than boosting the economy. But Republicans say the president would rather campaign on the issue of jobs than find a comprehensive bipartisan solution.
(Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Walsh)
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