WASHINGTON -- Faced with unbending opposition from congressional Republicans, the Obama administration signed off on changes to the president's much touted jobs bill on Thursday, endorsing a five percent surtax on income over one million dollars a year to help pick up the $447 billion tab.
But even after tinkering with the American Jobs Act, top aides to the president were left pleading, publicly, for legislative action. They weren't even demanding that House Republicans move the whole package, though that remained the stated goal. At this points, just parts of it would do.
"I would like to see anything start to be brought [to the floor]," White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley told The Huffington Post following his speech at the Washington Ideas Forum on Wednesday. "The [issue] is, get moving. It is now October, every three weeks they are gone. And they have a lot to do in a short time."
Time, indeed, does not appear to be of the essence to House Republicans, whose leadership has said it won't bring the president's job package in its current form to the floor. The president's proposal may include previously supported GOP provisions (an extension of the payroll tax cut); it may include infrastructure spending that individual Republican lawmakers have sought; it may come at a time when lawmakers unanimously agree on the need to address the jobs crisis. But it also calls for taxes to be raised and that remains anathema in the Grand Old Party.
"If they don't bring it to the floor, the question is, 'Okay, fine, you don't like the president's plan, what is your plan that's real?' asked Daley.
The debate over the president's job bill has quickly become more abstract than substantive. Ask Democrats on the Hill privately and there is quick agreement that, at some point in time, the package will have to be broken up and considered bit by bit.
"If it doesn't pass, we will strip it into components," confirmed one Democratic lawmaker.
Senior administration officials have said the president won't veto components of the plan. So the only question is: When does the paring down actually happen?
And yet, there is a clear explanation for what Democrats are now doing. Forty-nine percent of respondents to the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll said they trusted President Obama more than congressional Republicans to handle job creation, compared to 34 percent who said they trusted Republicans more. So when asked whether the White House would be willing to consider, say, an extension of the payroll tax cut on its own, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett stuck to the script, even despite Daley's deviations.
"We want to push for the whole thing," she told The Huffington Post after speaking at the Washington Ideas Forum. "And we will see what Congress does."
That mindset may also help explain why the administration endorsed a pay-for provision it once rejected. Raising the tax rates on income only above a million dollars was once privately cast aside as a political misstep -- an inherent concession that the wealthy in America were only those who made at least seven figures. Yet on Wednesday, both Daley and Jarrett said they embraced the idea as a substitute for the tax policy changes that the president had suggested as a means to pay for his jobs plan.
"The president always said he is open to other alternatives, but the fundamentals of the bill are intact," said Jarrett.
The proposals' primary author, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), was slightly more effusive. "This could be a turning point," he said of his own proposal. "The only way we will get the ability to raise revenues, whether for deficit reduction programs or anything else, is if the public starts being on our side. The Republican senators and congressmen will be the last to turn around on that."
But the problem remains: A comprehensive campaign to build up public pressure on Republican lawmakers on the issue of tax hikes will undoubtedly outlast the window for passing the president's job plan.
"Right," conceded Schumer. "But it is a building block and important building block to say that we were willing to pay for it by taxing millionaires and billionaires. The president and the Democrats in Congress are on the same page here. And it is a much crisper, cleaner argument."