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Democrats Score Big Win on Jobs Bill

House Democrats trumpeted a blowout victory Wednesday on the first item on their revamped jobs agenda — not only because they racked up a much-needed accomplishment but also because they drove a wedge between Republican rank-and-file Members and their leadership.

Nearly 130 Republicans voted with Democrats to pass legislation aimed at lowering the costs manufacturers face when trying to acquire component parts. Just 42 Republicans opposed the bill, which even split GOP leaders: Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) voted against it, while Republican Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) and Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) voted in favor.

The high-water mark for the Republican whip effort came with 101 voting against the bill at one point, according to Democratic vote-counters, before they began changing their votes in droves to back the bill.

Leading Democrats hailed the final vote, 378-43, as a political victory for their retooled jobs initiative — Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced it Tuesday — which consists of rolling out at least one manufacturing bill on the floor each week until lawmakers go home in October to campaign.

“Republican leadership continues to fight for a return to the failed policies of the Bush administration that resulted in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and nearly doubled the national debt. Democrats in Congress are working to ensure that small businesses and U.S. manufacturers have the help they need in order to create jobs and bolster the economy here at home,” Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said after the vote.

A Democratic leadership aide said the vote revealed that Boehner and Cantor “in their blind ambition for the 2010 elections are willing to sacrifice American jobs to win seats. That strategy was rejected soundly by members of their own Conference. It’s an embarrassing day for Republicans.”

But GOP Members said the real sticking point for them was whether tariffs in the bill were tantamount to earmarks, something that many in their party have sworn off.

Republicans were divided over “the principal difference on whether an earmark appropriation” was akin to a tariff, McCotter said. “In the end, what happened was the Members decided that it wasn’t.”

Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) deferred to Cantor’s office when asked about his party being split on the issue. He said he voted against the bill because he “made a commitment three years ago to decline earmarks.”

The vote stuck in the craw of GOP appropriators who feel they have borne the brunt of earmark attacks even though earmarks in tax and authorizing bills aren’t significantly different.

“Hell yeah, there’s a double standard,” Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said. “There still seems to be universal support for earmarks around here. I think we just had a referendum.”

Some Republicans gave Democrats credit for their strategy of bringing up the jobs bill on the suspension calendar, which forced a straight up-or-down vote on the measure — and forced GOP lawmakers to choose between voting against a jobs proposal or holding to their personal definition of an earmark.

“I give the Democrats an A-plus for trying to put us in a box. That was a brilliant move,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who voted for the bill. “They didn’t have to bring it up on suspension. I’ll pat them on the back.”

The Utah Republican said his party needs to “distinguish between abiding by not asking for an earmark versus not voting for something that might have an earmark in it. I think there’s a definition problem.”

Chaffetz said the bill technically includes earmarks, but “I didn’t ask for any of them. So I feel comfortable voting for the bill.”

Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring said GOP leaders acknowledged that the vote was “not an easy decision for Members” but that under House rules, the tariffs in the bill “are still treated as earmarks.”

Despite that, there continues to be “varying opinions about this from outside watchdog groups and Members themselves, which underscores the need for real earmark reform in the House, so that Members and the public have clear rules and a new process that separates worthy projects from worthless pork,” he said.

Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who has sworn off earmarks, said he voted for the bill because “lowering impediments to manufacturers having access to parts weighed more heavily than the offset.”

Some rank-and-file Democrats walked away from the vote saying their support for the bill is a step toward burnishing their job-making credentials independent of the Obama administration.

With President Barack Obama’s poll numbers under water in many vulnerable districts and unemployment still near 10 percent, Members are pushing bottom-up initiatives like the manufacturing agenda rather than simply hitching their fortunes to the president’s agenda.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza, who represents the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats in leadership meetings, has repeatedly criticized the administration for its handling of the housing crisis as well as manufacturing.

“It’s about finally getting the administration to understand that we need this manufacturing agenda for the country,” the California Democrat said. “This administration has not stemmed the tide of manufacturing jobs heading overseas.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly said that Members remain concerned about high unemployment and want to keep passing legislation to try to address it. “Unemployment has stayed stubbornly high against all predictions,” the Virginia Democrat said, adding there is “enormous frustration.”

“Why aren’t the numbers moving faster? We’re not where we thought we would be. There is a growing sense around here that we need to take some additional steps.”

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