WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid promised Wednesday the Senate will vote this week on a $35 billion bill to rescue jobs for teachers and firefighters, saying they should be a priority in a new jobs plan that Democrats are trying to advance.
Reid, the Senate majority leader from Nevada, said job losses among public workers are a big worry in the economic downturn while the private sector is doing better.
"The massive layoffs we have in America today of course are rooted in the last administration," Reid said in a Senate speech. "And it's 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."
"Democrats' No. 1 priority is to create jobs," Reid said. "So to us, putting hundreds of thousands of people back to work teaching children, patrolling our streets and fighting fires constitutes a success."
Reid's remarks drew a challenge from some conservatives while Senate Republicans posted a statement to their website saying Reid was "disconnected from reality."
Republicans signaled they oppose the new bill as another "bailout" for the states in the wake of the $787 billion 2009 stimulus bill they argue did not fix the economy.
"If (Reid) thinks losing 1.5 million private sector jobs since 2009 means the private sector is 'doing just fine,' he needs to get his head examined," said Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government.
According to a summary of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there has been a net loss of 1.6 million private sector jobs since Obama became president. But 2.6 million jobs have been added since the lowest point of the recession in early 2010. Governments have continued to shed jobs throughout, with a total of 603,000 lost.
Senate Democrats on Wednesday enlisted Vice President Joe Biden to build momentum for a bill that would send $35 billion to states and communities to hire and keep teachers and first-responders.
Democrats said the funding, which would be raised through a 0.5 percent surtax on people making more than $1 million, would save or preserve 400,000 jobs.
"With 14 million people out of work, we are going to make sure there is a vote on our bill this week," Reid told several hundred workers at a jobs rally where Biden was the featured speaker. Many were handed bright yellow T-shirts carrying the logo of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
"This is not very complicated," Biden told the audience. "Real people would get relief right now ... people who save our lives and give children a chance to have good lives."
The legislation is the first piece sliced from President Barack Obama's jobs bill after the overall $447 billion package was blocked in the Senate earlier this month. Democrats have vowed to push individual segments of the Obama plan.
Republicans are not going along.
"This is the third time in three years the president has asked us to bail out the states," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said of the latest plan. "More bailouts are not going to solve the problem, they will just enable it."
McConnell said Democrats were "choreographing a political sideshow." He said they chose a part of the Obama package they knew Republicans would not like, threw in a tax increase "just to make sure" and plan to use it as a weapon against Republicans on the campaign trail.
Reid defended the 2009 stimulus, saying it "saved Nevada from going into bankruptcy."
"The money we got there, hundreds of millions of dollars, allowed a Republican governor to save Medicaid ... it saved teachers, it saved a lot of programs in Nevada," Reid said.
Republicans, he said, "are using a different benchmark for success than we are."
"Republicans' No. 1 priority is to defeat President Obama, and their strategy is to keep the economy weak as long as possible," Reid said. "So they oppose legislation we know beyond a shadow of a doubt will support 400,000 American jobs without adding a penny to the deficit."
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760.