It felt a little bit like church Wednesday in the Russell Senate Office Building, as a fired up Vice President Joe Bidenpreached to a crowd of educators and first responders at a standing-room-only jobs rally.
"Real people, real people will get relief right now!" the former long-time senator shouted in sing-song fashion to an enthusiastic crowd. "We can do something about it right now, right now!"
Senate Democrats, together with the White House, have sliced off a piece of President Obama's larger jobs bill, which failed in the Senate, pulling together a $35 billion piece of legislation that rehires and retains teachers and first responders. A vote is expected this week. One problem for Republicans, though, it's paid for with a half-percent surtax on those making more than $1 million, but Biden openly mocked GOP opposition to the provision.
"This isn't about engaging in - what do they call it?" Biden jokingly asked his adoring audience, many of whom shouted back, "Class warfare!" Biden sarcastically added, "Yo, richie! This is bizarre. I mean really."
Republicans also made it clear they found Democrats' behavior bizarre.
“What’s going on is that Democrats are obsessed for some reason with raising taxes. That’s the only possible way to explain their latest idea to impose a permanent tax hike on about 300,000 U.S. business owners, and then use the money to bail out cities and states that can’t pay their bills," Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, adding,
“More bailouts aren’t going to solve this problem. They’ll just enable
Back at the Democratic rally, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-Ny, could not resist joining in on the action.
"Anyone walk on the same planet as you think this is a bailout?" he asked. "No!" the audience members shouted back.
"They’ve choreographed a political sideshow this week," McConnell accused, chiding the President for his two-day bus tour that Republicans have said is nothing more than a campaign swing through the electorally-critical states of North Carolina and Virginia.
“It’s completely preposterous at a time when 14 million Americans are looking for a job in this country for the President to be riding around on a bus saying we should raise taxes on the very folks who create jobs."
The Kentucky Republican suggested the Senate, instead, take up some of the legislation House Republicans have passed recently with bipartisan support, like one that would delay or scrap rules to reduce mercury and other harmful air emissions. Its fate is unclear in the Senate.
And the mud just kept flying, a sure sign that lawmakers are feeling the heat of the 2012 election, with the balance of power in the Senate up for grabs.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was "tired of Republicans in Congress rooting for the economy to fail."
“Nothing could be farther from the truth," McConnell fired back. "Look: if Republicans wanted the economy to fail, we’d all line right up behind the President’s economic policies, rather than opposing them...So I think it’s time Democrats realize they were elected to lead, not to choreograph political theater."
In that same speech, Reid ignited his own controversy, asserting that the private sector is fine, rather the creation of government jobs should be the focus in an economy with a stubbornly high
"The massive layoff we have had in America today, of course is rooted in the last administration, and it is very clear that private sector jobs have been doing just fine. It's the public sector jobs
where we've lost huge numbers, and that's what this legislation is all about."
"It would be difficult to be more wrong," read an e-mailed release from Antonia Ferrier, spokeswoman for Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, top Republican on the Finance Committee. Using Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the GOP staff on the panel found that "since the beginning of the recent recession (Dec. 2007), there have been 6,257,000 private sector job losses (a 5.41% decline) and 392,000 total government (federal + state + local) job losses (a 1.75% decline). Federal government
employment has increased over that period by 63,000 jobs (a 2.29% increase)."
It's unclear if Republicans and Democrats can come together, at this point, and agree on a jobs package. In the meantime, Democrats have promised to keep the votes coming on various pieces of the Obama jobs bill, from a payroll tax break to tax credits for businesses that hire veterans, all popular political issues that have recently polled well.
And Republicans are very likely to continue their opposition, with Democrats using the millionaire surtax as an offset each time. Republicans charge that Democrats, therefore, want the political issue more than they want a policy victory.
It was a position to which Biden seemed to lend credence Wednesday.
"These guys seem to want to curry favor with the guys who aren't even asking for the favor. So, I say to the American people, watch your senator. Watch him or her choose."