Dick Durbin and the Fierce Moral Urgency of ... Next Month

Barack Obama went to Congress eleven days ago and demanded that they pass his jobs bill immediately … seventeen times, in fact, during his speech to the joint session.  The White House insists it won’t negotiate on its terms, either.  Congress has had Obama’s jobs plan for a week now. So where does it stand? Understandably, the Republican House isn’t terribly excited about getting around to Obama’s retread of the 2009 stimulus. As Dick Durbin explained yesterday to CNN’s Candy Crowley, the Democratic Senate doesn’t seem to be in a rush to get to it, either:

CROWLEY: When is the bill going to get on the floor?

DURBIN: The bill is on the calendar. Majority leader Reid moved it to the calendar. It is ready and poised. There are a couple other items we may get into this week not on the bill and some related issues that may create jobs. But we’re going to move forward on the president’s bill. There will be a healthy debate. I hope the Republicans will come to…

CROWLEY: After the recess, so next month? Or when will it actually begin to act on?

DURBIN: I think that’s more realistic it would be next month.

Andrew Malcolm puts this in perspective:

So, given the president’s professed urgency, the next day, Sept. 9, everyone asked where was his jobs legislation?

And, well, it seems the urgent jobs bill hadn’t actually been written yet but should be ready in a week or two. When the laughter died, the White House said on second thought the legislation would be ready for a photo op the next Monday.

Well, here we are on the next Monday after that next Monday and we’ve just learned from the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin, that actually it seems that body won’t really be seriously getting into the legislation for a while yet. The Senate has some other more important business to handle. And then there’s this month’s congressional vacation. …

Good thing the president’s own Democratic party controls the Senate. Because, otherwise, there might be some kind of silly, unnecessary delays in deliberating Obama’s urgent jobs bill that he says will surely help the nation’s unemployed millions if only those Republicans don’t connive to slow things down.

Why won’t the Democratic Senate rush the bill to a floor vote?  Frankly speaking, Reid doesn’t have enough Democrats supporting it to pass.  He has a 53-47 majority, which means he can only lose three Democrats and then ask Joe Biden to cast a tiebreaker.  On Friday, five Democrats in the Senate went on the record opposing the bill as written — Mark Begich, Jim Webb, Mary Landrieu, and Barbara Mikulski — and that was after a White House rally session.  After that story broke, a fifth Democrat publicly announced his opposition to Obama’s bill as presented, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, who echoed John Boehner in suggesting that the proposal get broken up into its component pieces for separate floor votes instead.

Over the weekend, Joe Manchin became Senate Democrat #6 to announce that he wouldn’t back the package.  Manchin specifically objected to a rerun of earlier failed policies as a new approach to job creation:

As for creating job growth, Sen. Manchin said he had “serious reservations” about some of the ideas put forth in Obama’s jobs bill.

“If spending money solved our crises, we would be okay,” Manchin said. “When the President first spoke to Congress, I had some serious reservations. After we did a breakdown on the numbers, I was even more skeptical. At $450 billion, it is a tremendous cost, with a doubtful return on investment.” Manchin said he worries that the bill includes ideas that have been tried before and failed, at tremendous cost to taxpayers.

That would put the whip count at 53-47 the wrong way for Harry Reid and Durbin, and we still haven’t heard from red-state Democrats like Ben Nelson, Claire McCaskill, and other endangered incumbents facing a bad 2012 re-election campaign.  It’s possible that once 2014 candidates like Mark Pryor get counted, Obama’s bill might not even get 40 votes, which would be a humiliating outcome for Reid and for the White House.

Obama wanted to paint House Republicans in a corner by offering a jobs bill that they would oppose, allowing him to blame the GOP for the bad economy and hang an “extremist” sign around their necks.  Instead, Obama may end up looking even more extreme than his own party’s Senate caucus and entirely isolated on economic policy.  Small wonder Durbin and Reid want to delay debate on this jobs bill until after the recess in order to twist arms.  If that doesn’t work, expect Obama’s jobs bill to disappear quietly in October.

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