WASHINGTON -- The Senate rejected President Barack Obama's $447 billion jobs bill on Tuesday night, a move that was expected and clears the way for the White House to refocus on pressuring Congress to pass smaller pieces of the package.
The Senate voted 51 to 48 on a procedural motion to begin debate on the bill. Despite falling short of the required 60 votes, Senate Democratic leaders were at least able to save Obama face by securing a simple majority of Democratic support.
Two Democrats, Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Jon Tester (Mont.), sided with Republicans in opposing the motion. A handful of other Democrats who had concerns with the bill, including Sens. Jim Webb (Va.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.), voted to proceed to debate but with the understanding that they would have voted against the bill itself.
"The things I support in this bill are outweighed by the things I can't support," Tester said in a statement after the vote. "It is an expensive, temporary fix to a problem that needs a big, long-term solution."
Obama's bill was a mix of tax cuts and new spending aimed at spurring job creation in the short term. It included $270 billion in payroll tax cuts and other tax relief, along with $175 billion in new spending on roads, school repairs and other infrastructure projects, as well as an extension of unemployment benefits and aid to local governments to prevent impending teacher and police layoffs.
During floor remarks before the vote, Webb said he couldn't support the bill because of its proposal to offset costs by raising taxes on the wealthy. The bill includes a 5.6 percent surtax on households earning more than $1 million as a way to pay for the package. Obama's bill originally proposed raising taxes on people with an annual salary of $200,000, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) upped the income level to bring reluctant Democrats on board with the offset.
Webb said the real problem is that the bill would tax people's ordinary income versus capital gains, where he said most wealthy people make their money.
"The present proposal looks good at first glance, it sounds good on a TV bite, but in all respect to the people who put it forward, I do not believe it's smart policy," Webb said. "It does not go where the real economic division lies in our country."
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who typically votes with Democrats, called Obama's proposal "a kind of mini-stimulus" that he said is less likely to give the economy a jolt than the $787 billion stimulus package passed in 2009.
"To me, what we've got to do is restore confidence of people in the business sector to invest. That's what’s missing in our economy," Lieberman said. "I know [Obama's jobs bill] has been put forward with good intentions, but I don't think it does the job."
The president has been campaigning around the country for weeks in an effort to sell the public on the need for Congress to pass his jobs bill. But given the political reality that neither the House nor the Senate ever had the votes to pass it, he has also less enthusiastically been endorsing the idea of lawmakers acting on smaller pieces of it.
"Tonight, a majority of United States Senators voted to advance the American Jobs Act," Obama said in a statement after the Senate vote. "But even though this bill contains the kind of proposals Republicans have supported in the past, their party obstructed the Senate from moving forward on this jobs bill."
"We will now work with Senator Reid to make sure that the individual proposals in this jobs bill get a vote as soon as possible."
Moving forward, the political calculus by the White House is clear: press for votes on pieces of the bill with strong appeal to the middle class, such as tax cuts for small businesses and aid to keep teachers and police officers on the job. As the 2012 election comes into focus, the White House is prepared to tar anyone who opposes those provisions as a defender of tax breaks for millionaires.
"With each vote, Members of Congress can either explain to their constituents why they're against common-sense, bipartisan proposals to create jobs, or they can listen to the overwhelming majority of American people who are crying out for action," Obama said.
House Republican leaders, who have already said they won't bring up Obama's plan for a vote, welcomed the bill's failure as a sign that bipartisan negotiations on pieces of the package can now begin in earnest.
"The Senate’s rejection of the President's jobs bill proves once and for all that there isn’t sufficient support on either side of the aisle for his all-or-nothing approach," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a statement. "With millions of people out of work, I hope that the President will put the brakes on his campaign-style speeches and work with Congress on areas where there is bipartisan support to spur economic growth and get people back to work."
"Now it’s time for both parties to work together and find common ground on removing government barriers to private-sector job growth," Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.
House Democratic leaders accused Republicans of standing in the way of job creation.
"Republicans – in the House and Senate – continue to delay and block action on this critical measure, refusing to address Americans’ top priority: jobs," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
Liberal groups also had harsh words for the bill's detractors.
Senators who voted against the motion to begin debate on the bill "should be ashamed of themselves," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
"It's long past time for Congress to take the steps necessary to get our economy working by helping to create the good paying jobs that Americans depend on to support their families and their communities," Henderson said in a statement. "The Senate had a chance to do so today, and it failed miserably."
Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said those senators "turned their backs" on more than 14 million unemployed Americans. "At a time when so many American families are hurting, it is truly unconscionable to play politics with their lives and our economy," she said in a statement. "There is no excuse for blocking this bill."
For now, however, the White House and Senate Democratic leaders are already moving on to Plan B: mapping out which pieces of the bill to break out and hold individual votes on. A Senate Democratic aide told The Huffington Post to expect those votes to take shape during the week of Oct. 24.
Mike McAuliff contributed reporting