WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats intend to jettison provisions that President Barack Obama recommended to pay for his jobs bill and substitute a tax surcharge on millionaires, officials said Tuesday, hoping to unify the party for a protracted political struggle with Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., outlined plans for a 5 percent surcharge in a closed-door meeting with the rank and file, according to participants, 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.
There was no indication Cantor, R-Va., or the House Republicans would agree.
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.
On a day rich in political maneuvering, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell announced he was ready for an immediate vote on the bill, 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 too.
"There's the good, the bad and the ugly. The ugly was $447 billion," said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., referring to the overall size of the president's request.
Yet while Republicans and Democrats appear to be pointing to a showdown that could reverberate into the 2012 election campaign, some elements of the measure could clear Congress with relative ease by year's end.
Republicans have not ruled out extending and expanding the payroll tax cuts that took effect on Jan. 1, at a cost of $247 billion over a decade, the single priciest item in Obama's legislation.
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 $447 billion plan, 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 such as 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 Sen. Mary Landrieu of Lousiana, whose state is home to oil and gas operations.
The president also proposed higher taxes on hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners, and those increases, too, would disappear under the changes Reid is expected to unveil as early as today .