President Obama's $447 billion jobs bill failed to clear a procedural hurdle in the Democratic-controlled Senate Tuesday night despite a White House push that accelerated in the 11th hour.
The bill received 50 votes falling short of the necessary 60 to end debate. Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jon Tester of Montana were the only Democrats to vote against the bill. Both of them are facing tough re-election campaigns next year.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., had said earlier that although he intended to vote in favor of ending the Republican filibuster, he did not intend to support the bill if it reached a final vote.
Now that it has failed, both the House and Senate are expected to turn this week to approving U.S. trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, one of the few areas of agreement between Republicans and the administration on boosting the economy. And Senate Democrats are looking at ways of breaking the jobs bill into pieces that would be easier to pass.
Obama declared earlier Tuesday that the U.S. Senate faced a “moment of truth” when it voted on the bill, calling it "gut check time." He later issued a statement accusing Republicans of obstruction.
"Tonight's vote is by no means the end of this fight," Obama said. "We will now work with Senator Reid to make sure that the individual proposals in this jobs bill get a vote as soon as possible."
The White House Office of Management and Budget had said before Tuesday's vote that bill would help put Americans back to work without adding a dime to the deficit. And the White House sent a letter from 16 Democratic governors urging congressional leaders to pass the bill.
The White House also began highlighting on its website Tuesday the stories of people who will be affected if Congress doesn't pass the jobs bill, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
But at the same time, acknowledging reality, Obama said he was prepared to break it into pieces and try to pass job-creation legislation that way.
The plan combines payroll tax cuts for workers and businesses with $175 billion in spending on roads, school repairs and other infrastructure, as well as unemployment assistance and help to local governments to avoid layoffs of teachers, firefighters and police.
Republicans dismissed the president’s proposal as a stimulus plan like the one two years ago that they argue failed to turn the economy around.
"The legislation we’ll be voting on today is many things, but it’s not a jobs bill," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said Tuesday. "And Republicans will gladly vote against any legislation that makes it harder to create jobs right now."
Supporters of the package disagree and suggest there will be a political price to pay for those who oppose it.
“If the voters think this is unfair for the minority party to just say we’re not going to support this president, no matter what he comes up with, if they believe that’s unfair, then they’ll make those feelings known to those members of Congress,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, the No.2 Democrat in the Senate.
The key elements of the jobs package reprise parts of Obama's $800 billion-plus 2009 stimulus measure and a Social Security payroll tax cut enacted last year. Unlike the deficit-financed stimulus bill, the jobs measure would be paid for by a 5.6 percent surcharge on income exceeding $1 million, expected to raise more than $450 billion over a decade.
In making the case for the bill, the White House cites economists such as Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics, who predicts that the measure would add 2 percentage points of growth to the economy and add 1.9 million jobs. But Republicans point to optimistic predictions about the 2009 measure that did not come to pass; unemployment hovers just above 9 percent nationwide.
The president has been struggling in opinion polls, and passage of the measure has always been a long shot, given that Republicans control the House and can use delaying tactics in the Senate.
Obama also said that he was instructing his staff to move forward on job-creating initiatives without congressional approval where possible. The White House announced steps to speed environmental and other regulatory approvals for 14 public works projects across the country.
"We're not going to wait for Congress," Obama said.
While Republicans backed the payroll tax cut for individuals last year and support elements such as continued tax breaks for investments in business equipment, they're adamantly opposed to further spending and say the tax surcharge would strike at small businesses.
Fox News' Trish Turner, Mike Emanuel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.