WASHINGTON -- Senate Democratic leaders have settled on which piece of President Barack Obama's jobs plan they want to move on first: $35 billion for state and local governments to rehire teachers, police and firefighters.
"Our expectation [is] that the first measure will be teachers," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during a Monday press gaggle aboard Air Force One.
"I didn't want to get ahead of Senator Reid," Carney said of breaking the news. "We have been in consultation with him, but it’s his prerogative and we’re very pleased that he will be taking it up."
During a conference call, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he plans to unveil the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act later Monday and decide "in the next day or two" when to hold a vote on it. He said the bill would keep 400,000 teachers and first responders on the job, and would be paid for by imposing a 5 percent tax on millionaires.
Asked which pieces of Obama's jobs plan are next in line for Senate votes, Reid demurred. But he said he has already settled on the next four votes on pieces of Obama's bill and is waiting to meet with the Democratic Caucus on Tuesday before discussing his plan publicly.
"There is no reason we cannot finish the appropriations bills before the end of the week, and have a vote on this jobs bill," Reid told reporters on the call. “I am happy to keep the Senate in session as long as needed to make sure we get a vote on this jobs bill."
Reid's office also sent out a fact sheet that highlights past votes and statements by Republicans in favor of jobs bills similar to the teacher/first responders aid bill. The fact sheet cites a May 2010 press release by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying he was "proud" to help secure funds for first responders. It also points to a March 2007 vote to fully fund the COPS program; it included the support of 16 GOP senators.
During a speech earlier Monday in Fletcher, N.C., Obama knocked Senate Republicans for voting down his entire $447 billion jobs package last week. All Republicans opposed a procedural vote to begin debate on the bill, along with two Democrats. Obama said his push to break out pieces of his bill and hold individual votes on them gives Republicans "another chance" to act on jobs.
"Maybe they just couldn't understand the whole thing all at once," Obama said, drawing laughs from the crowd of supporters. "So we're going to break it up into bite-sized pieces so they can take a thoughtful approach to this legislation."
"So this week, I'm going to ask members of Congress to vote on one component of the plan, which is whether we should put hundreds of thousands of teachers back in the classroom and cops back on the street and firefighters back to work."
Of course, the reality is that Republicans are poised to vote against any piece of Obama's plan because they don't like how it is paid for: by raising taxes on millionaires and ending subsidies for the oil and gas industry. But with the 2012 elections in mind, Obama and Democratic leaders plan to keep lining up votes anyway to build the case that Republicans are voting against jobs and the economy in the name of protecting corporate interests.
This story has been updated with information on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's conference call Monday.