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Teachers to Come First in Senate Jobs Vote

Jennifer Epstein and Manu Raju

Harry Reid is expected to announce the introduction of the first provision of Obama's jobs bill. (AP Photo)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will begin breaking apart President Barack Obama’s jobs bill with a vote on the provision that helps states pay teachers and first responders, his office and the White House said Monday.

Reid will hold a press call Monday afternoon “to announce the introduction of the first individual component of President Obama’s jobs bill,” his office said in an email to reporters soon after White House press secretary Jay Carney alerted journalists aboard Air Force One. “The Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act will help states and local governments keep teachers in the classroom and police officers and firefighters on the beat."

Carney — en route with the president to Asheville, N.C., Obama’s first stop on a three-day bus tour to sell his jobs bill — said: “We’re very pleased [Reid] will be taking it up.”

The White House, Carney said, has been “in consultation” with Reid.

Speaking in Asheville, Obama blasted Senate Republicans’ opposition to his bill in its entirety, saying “maybe they just didn’t understand the whole thing.”

“So we’re breaking it up into pieces,” he said to a crowd of about 400, with the Blue Ridge Mountains behind him. “If they vote against taking steps that we know will put Americans back to work right now … then they’re not going to have to answer to me. They’re going to have to answer to you.”

The president’s $447 billion American Jobs Act includes $35 billion in aid to states to prevent teacher layoffs and to rehire teachers laid off during the economic downturn. The president’s economic advisers say the bill could pay the salaries of nearly 400,000 teachers for one academic year. The piece of the jobs bill that Carney said the Senate will consider first would also fund some salaries for police officers and firefighters.

The bill would be paid for by a 0.5 percent surtax on individuals or married couples filing jointly who earn more than $1 million annually, a Senate Democratic aide said.

The American Jobs Act — which would have been paid for by a 5.6 percent surtax on millionaires — fell nine votes shy last week of breaking a GOP-led filibuster in the Senate, after two Democrats joined a united Republican Conference in blocking a debate on the measure. However, less than a majority of the Senate supports the overall bill, since at least five Democrats said they would oppose the measure on a straight up-or-down vote.

Carney stressed that though the Senate will start breaking up the bill, the administration will continue to push for all of the president’s proposals.

“I wouldn’t know which is better than the other,” he said of the provisions in the bill. “I think they’re all very effective. … The whole package is put together with urgent, early action in mind.”

While Carney said he hoped the Senate would move “very soon” on the $35 billion proposal, it may not be considered for another couple of weeks. The Senate is debating appropriations legislation that is expected to take through the end of the week, and next week the chamber is not scheduled to be in session.

The $35 billion proposal appears to face slim odds in the Senate, as Republicans dig in against any tax increases and more stimulus-related spending proposals.

In August 2010, when Democrats had a more robust majority in the Senate, just two Republicans voted to approve a $26 billion state aid package that Democrats claimed would save jobs of teachers and firefighters.

Glenn Thrush contributed to this report.

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