By Zayida Baker

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., voted October 11 for President Obama’s jobs bill, a $447 billion package meant to stimulate the economy with infrastructure spending and job-creation. The bill failed to win a filibuster-proof majority.

After Obama touted it as his “jobs bill” in a primetime address to Congress and the nation September 8, the Senate finally considered the American Jobs Act October 11. Totaling $447 billion, it combines $270 billion in payroll and other tax cuts and tax credits for hiring with $175 billion in infrastructure, extended unemployment benefits, law enforcement and teachers’ salaries, redevelopment of foreclosed properties, and other spending. An included millionaires’ tax of 5.6 percent would pay for the measure at a time when many Democrats are tacking to the center for the 2012 elections.

Even though he leads the Democrat Party, Obama’s legislation sometimes falls flat in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Besides the jobs bill, which could not find 60 votes to advance to floor debate, Obama’s 2011 budget failed famously on May 25, 97-0.

Obama’s initial jobs bill raised taxes on those earning at least $250,000 annually, but Senate Democrats adjusted that threshold to $1 million. Democrats seemed embarrassed by their disagreement with the president: in order to prevent Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., from exposing this rift with a forced vote on the original bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., deployed the “nuclear option” October 6, temporarily changing Senate rules with a simple majority, 51-48.

Support for the jobs bill, also 51-48, was mostly along party lines. Even so, Democrats Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Jim Webb (Va.), and Independent Joe Lieberman (Conn.), who caucuses with Democrats, stated publicly that they only voted for the bill to move it forward for discussion, and that they rejected its current form. Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and John Tester, D-Mont., who are up for reelection next year in relatively conservative states, voted against.

Florida Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson, who is also on the ballot in 2012, said in defense of the bill, “It’s going to produce a lot of jobs. What it’s going to do is put money into roads and bridges and sewer plants—things that have been crumbling. For every billion dollars spent on roads about 40,000 jobs are created. It’s also going to put money into research and development, and money into education. These are all the things that we’ve got to do if we’re going to compete in a global economy.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who opposed the jobs bill, was one of many who derided it as a sequel to the failed stimulus. Of over $800 billion appropriated in 2009, the Federal Highway Administration verifies that six percent, or about $48 billion, was devoted to infrastructure spending. Yet the unemployment rate still hovers above 9 percent.

According to House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., the 2009 stimulus “will go down in history as one of government’s greatest failures.” He commissioned two reports by the Government Accountability Office, which show that the Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration were not transparent about their decisions to award stimulus grants to certain projects over others. Together, the concerned programs account for $9.5 billion in stimulus funds.

Sharon Calvert, president of the Tampa Tea Party, says of Obama’s bill, “It’s a bailout once again” designed to “send money to the states . . . to keep public union employees employed.”

She continues, “We don’t need this kind of spending; we can’t afford it. It has to be paid for with tax increases,” which is an obvious no-no in the current recession. “We know what works: we need to get rid of regulations, lower our tax rates, broaden our tax base, and get the government out of the way. That’s how you create private-sector jobs, not bailouts of public union workers.”

Republicans and Democrats will seek agreement on some of the jobs bill’s smaller parts, such as tax cuts, in the coming weeks.

Nelson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.

You may wish to contact
Sen. Nelson: (202) 224-5274
Sen. Rubio: (202) 224-3041

Zayida Baker covers Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Steve Southerland for Tea Party Patriots’ Government Accountability Project. She can be reached at zayida.baker@tppjournalism.org.