Published Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
Updated Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011 | 3:47 p.m.
When President Barack Obama visits Las Vegas on Monday, he’ll be speaking to would-be voters about his No. 1 legislative priority: his jobs bill.
It’s a proposal the president has been trying to sell voters since early September, when he laid out his $447 billion plan to invest in infrastructure to Congress. But his message has changed since then.
Obama has taken his message — “Pass this jobs bill.” — to audiences across the country, but in Washington, it’s not faring so well against Republican opposition.
Obama’s jobs bill failed its first test in the Senate this month, when Sen. Harry Reid barely secured a majority — but solely of Democrats — to support a tweaked version of the legislation that paid for the bill by imposing a 5.6 percent surtax on millionaires beginning in 2013.
Reid then pledged to take Obama’s plan to Congress in pieces — which Republicans had said they would prefer in the days following the unveiling of the plan.
But that hasn’t gone so well either. This week, Reid tried to get the Senate to pass two of the least controversial portions of the bill: money for teachers and money for first responders, for a total of $35 billion. The vote on this one split 50-50 — not nearly the 60 Reid needed to avoid the threat of a filibuster.
Now, Senate Democrats have come up with a third plan — a reduced version of Obama’s jobs bill that focuses on transportation and infrastructure investment — the backbone of Obama’s proposal and the piece that’s supposed to get the construction workforce back on the job.
The smaller bill comes in at a total of $60 billion: $50 billion for upgrading roads, modernizing the national air-traffic control system and maintaining rail systems, and $10 billion for a national infrastructure bank meant to encourage public-private partnerships for other projects.
The itemized funding may be of particular interest to Nevada: $27 billion would go directly to rebuilding roads and bridges, and $4 billion would go to construct high-speed rail (which is less than 1 percent of the projected cost of a national high-speed rail network), $9 billion would repair transit systems and $5 billion for a competitive grant program.
The measure would be paid for with a 0.7 percent surtax on millionaires, a figure approximately proportional to the surtax Reid proposed to pay for the full Obama jobs plan, reduced to reflect the smaller size of the $60 billion proposal.
So is this reduced package the new jobs bill that Obama will be stumping for?
Obama’s stop in Las Vegas will be the first in a sweep to sell the American Jobs Act — the name of his full-fledged proposal — and his first since Reid and other Senate Democrats refocused their short-term efforts on the smaller legislation.
Obama called the roadblocks to passing his measure, even piecemeal, “unacceptable,” focusing chiefly on Republicans’ objections to the measure. “Our fight isn’t over. We will keep working with Congress to bring up the American Jobs Act piece by piece, and give Republicans another chance to put country before party and help us put the American people back to work.”
Monday will be Obama’s first chance to coordinate that new public message when he appears at the Bellagio, according to a Democratic source. Reid had been scheduled to appear with Obama.