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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Obama’s Jobs Act ‘Bipartisan’? Not Entirely

In his jobs speech to the nation on Sept. 8, President Barack Obama overstated his case for bipartisan support for each "kind of" proposal in his new jobs stimulus bill. While it's true there is much common ground in Obama's proposal, several of the planks in the plan, called the American Jobs Act, have gotten only token Republican support in the past, while being opposed by an overwhelming majority of Republicans.

In his speech to a joint session of Congress, Obama laid out a $447 billion plan that aims to jump-start employment. It includes tax cuts for employers and employees, tax cuts for businesses that hire new employees, unemployment assistance, money to build roads and bridges and money to states for teachers, firefighters and police officers. It's a plan, Obama said repeatedly, that should get support from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Obama, Sept. 8:  There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation.  Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans — including many who sit here tonight.

Obama, Sept. 8: Every proposal I’ve laid out tonight is the kind that’s been supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past.

In a press gaggle aboard Air Force One on Sept. 9, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney repeated the talking point, saying, the American Jobs Act “as you know, is comprised of a series of measures that have historically garnered bipartisan support.”

The implication was clear: Republicans who don’t support the bill are simply being obstructionists. But is it true that Republicans have supported "the kind of" proposals laid out by Obama?

Some of them, for sure.

Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor acknowledged as much in a blog post on Sept. 9.

"From the trade agreements, tax relief for small businesses, regulatory relief, and unemployment benefits programs, there are a lot of areas of commonality between the House Republicans’ jobs plan and the proposals the [p]resident discussed last night," Cantor said.

But the evidence for Republican support of some of the other measures in Obama's plan is thin. In some cases, we are talking about only a few Republicans who bucked the overwhelming opposition of their party.

Aid for Teachers and Firefighters?

For example, part of the Obama plan is to invest $35 billion to prevent the layoffs of up to 280,000 teachers, police officers and firefighters, and to hire tens of thousands more.

In December 2009, House Democrats passed the Jobs for Main Street Act that included $24 billion for state and local governments to retain teachers and police officers. (Not unlike what is included in Obama’s plan now.) It did not include a tax credit for small businesses that create jobs.

It passed the House 217 to 212, but not a single Republican voted for it. The measure never took hold in the Senate, however.

In March 2010, six House Republicans joined 211 Democrats to help pass a pared-down version of the bill, then called the HIRE Act. The $17.5 billion bill included a temporary payroll tax break to companies that hire jobless people. Notably, however, it was opposed by 166 House Republicans. Two weeks later, 11 Republican senators helped pass a Senate version of the bill. But it also was opposed by a majority of Senate Republicans – 28.

On Aug. 5, 2010, two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine, crossed party lines and voted for a bill that included $10 billion for state governments to spare thousands of teachers whose jobs were imperiled by strapped state budgets. But 39 Republicans voted against it. 

In short, there has been scant Republican support for increased federal aid to states to retain and hire teachers, police and firefighters.

Money to Modernize Schools?

The Obama plan also includes $25 billion to modernize at least 35,000 public schools, as well as $5 billion to modernize community colleges. It’s true that in June 2008, 27 House Republicans voted for a $6.4 billion bill to modernize and make repairs to public schools. The bill passed the House 250 to 164, with all the votes against it coming from Republicans.

And on Sept. 17, 2009, 16 House Republicans joined 246 Democrats to beat back an amendment (H. Amdt. 425) that would have cut $6.6 billion for school construction funding from the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act. However, 155 Republicans and six Democrats voted in favor of the amendment.

Again, that's not much evidence of Republican support for increasing federal spending on school construction.

As for Obama's plan to spend $50 billion on highways, transit, rail and aviation, the White House notes that before the stimulus passed in early 2009, Republicans, led by Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, John Thune, Richard Burr and Mel Martinez, offered their own alternative stimulus plan – one that was half the cost of the Democrats’ plan, but included $65 billion in state grants to build and repair bridges and roads.

We asked House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman Michael Steel via e-mail whether all of the kinds of proposals in Obama's plan enjoyed support from Democrats and Republicans. He replied:

Steel, Sept. 9: Not even close. For starters, the plan includes direct aid to states, 'modernizing' schools, spending on 'shovel ready projects, rehabbing homes, expanding the internet, etc. Those are the same 'kind of proposal' that made up the President's stimulus bill. As you know, every single Republican in the House voted against that bill. Do Republicans oppose infrastructure and the internet? Of course not. But we've not supported this 'kind of proposal' as a means to boost the economy.

Update, Sept. 12: The president's budget director, Jacob Lew, told reporters in an afternoon briefing that the jobs bill would be paid for by eliminating tax preferences for upper-income individuals and corporations. For example $400 billion over 10 years would come from limiting tax deductions for charitable contributions and mortgage interest payments for couples making over $250,000 a year, and individuals making over $200,000.  Eliminating certain preferences for oil and gas companies would raise another $40 billion, Lew said. And such tax increases have been adamantly opposed by Republicans.

Again, some of the proposals in Obama's plan — tax relief for small business and regulatory relief, for example — have clearly gotten support from Republicans in the past. But when Obama claimed that all the "kinds of" proposals in his plan have gotten Republican support in the past, he overplayed his hand. Some of the spending proposals in Obama's plan have gotten scant Republican support when similar measures were proposed in the past, and many were overwhelmingly opposed by a majority of Republicans.

Robert Farley