WASHINGTON -- White House officials won't acknowledge that President Barack Obama's $447 billion jobs package is expected to fail in a Tuesday night vote in the Senate, but they're already looking ahead to Plan B: Working with Senate leaders to break out pieces of the bill that can actually pass.
The Senate vote is key because it represents "the first act in a long-term play here over the next couple of months to try and force Congress to do, you know, the things that need to be done to help the economy in the short term," a senior White House official told reporters during a briefing. "Obviously, we expect to have the vast majority of Democrats support this bill."
But the operative phrase is "vast majority." Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are among a handful of politically vulnerable Democrats who have signaled they will oppose the bill because they don't like how it is paid for, namely by imposing tax hikes on millionaires. In addition, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who typically votes with Democrats, has voiced concerns with the bill and wants a chance to make amendments. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) was originally expected to miss the vote altogether, but her office later confirmed she will come back to Washington on Tuesday night for the vote.
The smattering of Democratic objections could mean the bill won't even hit 50 votes, a prospect Republicans are gunning for as part of their effort to frame the bill's demise as a major rebuke of Obama by a Democratic-controlled Senate. It takes 60 votes for the bill to clear a Senate procedural vote, so the failure to even hit 50 votes would be a largely symbolic blow for Obama.
Administration officials downplayed that narrative, however, and said the real issue is that Republicans have no short-term job creation plan of their own. That means both parties in Congress must be willing to find common ground and pass at least some of Obama's proposals, many of which have traditionally drawn bipartisan support, or risk being seen as preventing economic growth and hurting the middle class, they said.
"We'll be working with the Senate to sequence out which pieces they break out and when," said a second official. "There are many different parts of [the bill] that lend themselves to that pretty easily."
The officials cited several provisions they could envision gaining bipartisan traction on as standalone items, including extending the payroll tax cut, renewing unemployment compensation for another year, providing funds to prevent teacher layoffs and helping veterans find work. Republicans have also signaled some support for infrastructure investment; the second official noted that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) lent support to that idea during August negotiations on the debt package.
White House officials said to expect additional votes as soon as this week related to the jobs bill. But a Senate Democratic aide later clarified that the Senate isn't going to start breaking out pieces of the bill for votes until after the next congressional recess. That means votes those votes won't happen until at least the week of Oct. 24.
In terms of House action, Republican leaders have already said Obama's bill is dead on arrival in their chamber and that they won't even bring it up for a vote. But they are sending signals that they are open to taking up certain pieces of the package. One bill on tap for floor action this week is the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act, which, like one of the proposals in Obama's jobs plan, would provide access to education and training funds for unemployed veterans.
This story has been updated to reflect Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's (D-N.H.) change in plans to attend the vote.