Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Monday that he plans to begin breaking apart President Barack Obama’s ambitious $447 billion “American Jobs Act” by planning a vote on new legislation to help states pay teachers and first responders. The bill, "Putting Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act," was sponsored by Senators Robert Casey (D-PA) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
The bill aims to give local communities about $35 billion, funded by a surtax on wealthy families. Senate Republicans, however, have rejected this approach on numerous occasions.
According to economic advisers, the bill would stave off new teacher layoffs and allow others to be rehired. The president’s economic advisers estimate that the legislation could pay the salaries of some 400,000 teachers for one academic year. The bill also would supplement the salaries of police officers and firefighters.
Reid’s move promises to set up a new round of partisan debate in the upper chamber, which has hindered the federal government’s response to the substantial unemployment crisis facing the nation.
“Our communities cannot afford to lose the men and women who keep us safe and secure. And our nation cannot afford to lose the competitive edge the world-class education system gives us in a constantly changing world,” Reid said.
He indicated in a call with reporters that he plans to have the Senate vote on one jobs bill a week and that the teacher and first responder provision would signal the first of four jobs proposals that will come before the Senate in the coming weeks. Reid also suggested that the Senate may delay its scheduled recess next week in order to consider the legislation aimed at improving the nation’s struggling economy.
Holding a campaign-style rally in Asheville, N.C., President Obama chided Republicans for opposing his proposed legislation. "Maybe they just don’t understand the whole thing, so we’re breaking it up into pieces," the president said.
Senior Republicans shot back, accusing the president and Senate Democrats of offering up proposals that are politically motivated and have little or no chance of reviving the economic crisis.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “It is disappointing that Senate Democrats are still focused on the same temporary stimulus spending that’s failed to solve our jobs crisis instead of bipartisan legislation that would lead to private sector job growth.”
The jobs debate undoubtedly will continue to dominate the national political landscape, especially since many GOP presidential candidates have made job creation and opposition to Obama's plan a centerpiece of their campaigns. The president and Senate Democrats also will continue to highlight Republican opposition to the president’s proposal.