WASHINGTON -- The White House continued on Friday to insist that it wants the President's new jobs bill to be considered as a single piece of legislation when it is formally introduced next week. But with Republican lawmakers hinting that they would rather consider the components of the president's plan individually, it's not entirely clear whether congressional Democrats will be able to make the president's wishes come true.
The problem is that House Democrats don't have the numbers to force a vote on the American Jobs Act. They could attempt to bring a bill out of committee and to the floor without a report from that committee (a procedure known as a discharge petition) but that would require a majority vote. Since there are 192 Democrats in the House, that would mean they would need 26 Republicans to offer their support. Unless a number of GOP lawmakers succumb to the pressure that President Obama -- who is hitting the road to campaign for the jobs plan -- applies, this seems unlikely.
House Democrats could also try to pass the bill through a motion to recommit (MTR), which allows the minority party to offer an alternative piece of legislation to the one being considered. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) couldn't stop that vote. But Democratic aides aren't sure that there is a piece of legislation similar enough to the president's job bill that would allow a MTR to be germane.
Despite the fact that spending bills must originate in the House, the Senate could theoretically go first on The American Jobs Act. The chamber would take a shell bill from the House, strip it of its content, and put the text of the president's proposal in its place. But that still runs into two obstacles: are there 60 votes needed to break a filibuster in the Senate and, even if it does pass, how do you guarantee a vote in the House?
There are, additionally, territorial considerations that could cause the president's job bill to be stripped apart or at least altered. Various committees have jurisdiction over separate elements of his plan -– including tax policy, labor policy, infrastructure, school refurbishing, and wireless internet –- and each will want to put its imprint on the finished product.
On Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote Boehner urging him to act quickly on the packing in a bipartisan way. She also relayed that she had instructed "each Democratic Ranking Member to urge his or her Committee chair to schedule immediate hearings and legislative action on legislation proposed by the President that lies within the jurisdiction of the Committee."
While the deck is, as one Democratic aide noted, "stacked against" a straight up-or-down vote for the American Jobs Act in either chamber, there is one potential path forward.
Senior administration officials, in a briefing before the president's speech on Thursday evening, left open the possibility that the super committee in charge of debt reduction could put the text of the American Jobs Act in its final set of recommendations. This would mean that the bill would not only emerge intact, but would also be granted immense procedural advantages (it couldn't be filibustered or amended). It also would mean that it wouldn't come to a vote until late December -- a problematic timeframe with respect to the main objective: injecting money into the economy as quickly as possible.
"Obviously it could be passed as a part of a larger grand bargain, but we don't want to limit our options to that," said a senior administration official. "It would be very positive for this economy for this to pass quickly, and for it to pass in a way that people could see we're willing to work together to do something bold on creating demand in the short term, and a context in which we're also creating a confidence in our long term fiscal situation."