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Tense Senate exchange flares over president's jobs bill

From Ted Barrett, CNN
updated 10:22 PM EDT, Tue October 4, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Senate Republicans try to bring Obama's jobs bill to a quick vote
  • Minority leader McConnell wanted to highlight that even some Democrats oppose the plan
  • Majority leader Reid countered by offering to take a prodedural vote on debate
  • In the end, there was no vote on the jobs bill

Washington (CNN) -- In response to President Barack Obama's repeated calls for Congress to pass his jobs bill right away, Senate Republicans tried to call his bluff and force a quick vote on that legislation Tuesday.

The move, which Democrats blocked, was designed by Republicans to highlight that even some Democratic senators oppose the president's plan and it can't pass.

The president "is entitled to know where the Senate stands on his proposal that he has been out talking about over and over again the last few weeks suggesting that we are unwilling to vote on it," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said on the floor while holding up a thick copy of the bill. "We don't agree that it is the right policy but we are willing to vote on it."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said McConnell's effort was "nothing more than a political stunt" because it wouldn't provide for a full debate on the president's plan, which Obama first unveiled to a joint session of Congress in September.

The Senate floor exchange took place moments before the president delivered a speech in Texas where he again challenged Congress to take up his bill.

Reid, who has delayed consideration of the bill for weeks while he dealt with other Senate business, did say Tuesday that he would schedule floor time for the bill later this month. He also said Senate Democrats would consider changes to the president's proposal to offset the cost of his bill with tax increases on wealthier Americans and corporations, both of which some Democrats oppose.

In a tense legislative chess match played out on the Senate floor, Reid and McConnell battled for several minutes over the fate of McConnell's call for a quick vote. Reid was reluctant to allow for an up-or-down vote on the president's plan, perhaps out of fear some Democrats might vote against it, which would prove his members are divided on the bill, as Republicans charge.

Reid countered McConnell's proposal by offering to take a procedural vote on whether simply to take up the bill on the floor and debate it. Because it's typical for senators of each party to vote together on a procedural motion like that, Reid could be confident he would get all 53 Democratic senators to vote yes, even if some opposed the underlying bill.

Recognizing such a vote would muddy his effort to prove the Democrats are fractured, McConnell objected to Reid's motion and the debate concluded.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Air Force One en route from Dallas to St. Louis told reporters: "What we saw in the Senate today was a political stunt..."

Referring to McConnell's move, Carney said, "I would simply point out that this is coming from a senator who stated his number-one priority as the Republican leader in the Senate, not the economy, not jobs, but is to defeat President Obama."

Carney said the American people "recoil" from this sort of "gamesmanship."

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