Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), right, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and… (Brendan Hoffman, Getty…)
Reporting from Washington — A group of Senate Republicans on Thursday unveiled a plan they said would spur hiring and revive the flagging economy, the latest sign that President Obama's full-throated attacks over jobs may be leaving wounds.
The new bill was outlined by a cross section of lawmakers and was notable not for its fresh policy approach but for its clear admission that the party feared losing the rhetorical fight over job creation.
Republican leaders in the Senate have for months put the onus on the White House to outline and sell a strategy for economic recovery — and then blasted the president and his fellow Democrats for not pushing a bill that could win bipartisan support.
GOP lawmakers have offered a raft of proposals but have resisted presenting them as a single bill that could be evaluated, attacked and — likely — killed in the politically divided Congress.
But restlessness with that approach is clearly growing. President Obama has been touring the country promoting his jobs bill and repeatedly calling on Congress to "pass the bill." After slow-walking the vote, Senate Democrats brought up a version of the legislation this week. It was blocked by Republicans, resulting in headlines that seem to have accelerated the new strategy.
"We just thought it was time to put this all into a package. I will freely admit to you that part of it is in response to the president saying we don't have a proposal," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain led the effort to write the legislation along with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
"From the Republican point of view, this is a breakthrough," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), another supporter of the bill. "We have to be for something."
The bill is something of a greatest hits of Republican economic proposals. It calls for repeal of the new healthcare law, a balanced budget amendment, expansion of offshore oil drilling, and a tax overhaul that would lower rates and eliminate corporate loopholes.
Paul said the bill would create 5 million jobs — although he did not offer a specific time frame.
On Thursday, the Republican senators sought to distinguish their approach from the president's, saying it would create jobs by addressing structural problems in the economy rather than aiming for immediate job growth through government spending.
"This is a pro-growth proposal to create the environment for jobs, and that's as opposed to the short-term sweetener approach of the Obama administration that simply hasn't worked," Portman said.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) quickly criticized the Senate proposal as "a political fig leaf that would likely add to the deficit while doing nothing to create jobs."
A Washington Post/ABC poll released last week found that the president had a 15 percentage point advantage over congressional Republicans when it came to the public's trust in creating jobs. In September, the two were evenly split at 40%.
Numbers like that could spell disaster for lawmakers in tough races across the country next year; it's one reason the senators were far from alone in wanting to fight back with a stronger punch. McCain said "all but a handful" of Senate Republicans had signed on to the bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a supportive statement.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday also made a point of promoting the closest thing his chamber has to a jobs bill — a compilation of economic and energy proposals packaged as a jobs plan in May. Boehner also reminded the president of the Plan for America's Job Creators in a private phone call on Thursday, the speaker's office said.
Meanwhile, rank-and-file lawmakers have also started freelancing. The Western Caucus, a coalition of House and Senate members, last month announced its own jobs plan. Rep. Tom Rooney, a Republican sophomore from Florida, announced this week that he would unveil his own jobs bill — back home in the district.