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WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are scrambling to rewrite portions of President Barack Obama's jobs bill, even as Obama tries to blame Republicans for Congress' failure to act.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell moved to call the president's bluff Tuesday by pushing for a quick Senate vote on the bill, but Democratic leader Harry Reid derailed the effort as all sides maneuvered for position in a potentially defining battle in the 2012 presidential campaign.
In the Senate, Democrats made plans to jettison provisions that Obama recommended to pay for the $447 billion jobs bill, substituting them with a tax increase on millionaires, officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door developments.
Reid, D-Nev., outlined plans for a 5 percent surcharge in a meeting with the rank and file Tuesday, according to participants in the session, as Obama traveled to Texas to deliver his most caustic challenge yet to House Republicans who have not allowed a vote on the legislation unveiled nearly a month ago.
"What's the problem? Do they not have the time? They just had a week off. Is it inconvenient?" he said in Mesquite, Texas, singling out House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for special criticism.
Cantor has said the White House's "all or nothing approach is unreasonable."
But after three weeks of presidential demands for Congress to pass his jobs bill without delay, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said Obama was open to Reid's changes.
"We offered a balanced way to pay for the American Jobs Act, but if Congress has a better idea that ensures that everyone pays their fair share, we're open to it," Pfeiffer said.
McConnell said he was ready for an immediate vote on the bill, even though he opposes it. Reading aloud on the Senate floor from a copy of Obama's speech, he said, "I do think the president makes an important point that he is entitled to a vote."
The request was blocked by Reid, who called it a "political stunt" and said he would make sure the bill comes to the floor this month. Aboard Air Force One, White House press secretary Jay Carney accused Republicans of gamesmanship.
The parliamentary dance aside, the day's events underscored that, as submitted by the White House, Obama's bill would not only fail in the Republican-controlled House, but faced enough opposition from Democrats to endanger its prospects in the Senate, as well.
"There's the good, the bad and the ugly. The ugly was $447 billion," Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said of the bill's price tag.
Democrats said Reid's proposed millionaires' surtax was designed to quell much if not all of the opposition from his own rank and file.
To pay for his package of tax breaks, unemployment benefits and new spending on public works projects, Obama has proposed higher taxes on family incomes over $250,000 and on the oil and gas industry.
The first request troubles Democratic senators from states like New York, New Jersey and California, where large numbers of families could be hit by the increase. The second has drawn opposition most prominently from Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, whose state is home to numerous oil and gas operations.
The president also proposed higher taxes on hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners, but those increases, too, would disappear under the changes Reid is expected to unveil as early as Wednesday.
In political terms, Democrats appear to be hoping that Republicans will oppose both the higher taxes on million-dollar earners and the president's call for new spending aimed at reducing joblessness, thus leaving themselves open to a charge of protecting the wealthy at the expense of the unemployed.
Reid's office declined to comment on the emerging plan for a higher tax on millionaires, but several Democrats said it was being drafted to cover the entire $447 billion cost of the legislation.
Reid predicted that by the time the jobs bill comes to the Senate floor, almost all Democrats would be behind it.
While Republican lawmakers appear receptive to tax cuts the president has called for, they have expressed strong opposition to his proposed new spending.