By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in the Senate blocked on Thursday an election-year "Bring Jobs Home" bill that, if nothing else, gave Democrats an opportunity to highlight Mitt Romney's ties to Bain Capital and its outsourcing practices.
The partisan vote was one more instance of Democrats and Republicans in Congress offering up measures they know will not pass but can be used to fire up their respective supporters in the run-up to November's elections.
The measure was stopped dead in its tracks when Senate Republicans blocked it from being debated. The bill also is opposed by some large U.S. business groups.
It would have provided a 20 percent tax credit to companies that move production back to the United States. It also would end a tax break that companies can claim when closing a domestic plant, even if operations are moving abroad.
"We're happy ... to support your efforts to come home, but we're not paying for you to leave," said Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow, the main sponsor of the legislation, referring to the proposed tax changes and their impact on companies.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said that over the last decade, U.S. companies have moved almost 2.5 million jobs abroad, "often to countries where they can hire workers for half the price." He said another 21 million U.S. workers could see their jobs outsourced.
A coalition of U.S. business groups, including the Business Roundtable, National Association of Manufacturers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, called on Thursday for the bill's defeat, saying it would have the "unintended consequence" of making it harder for companies to compete in world markets.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell complained that Democrats were denying his party the opportunity to amend the bill. And Senator Orrin Hatch, the senior Republican on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, dismissed the measure as a talking point for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.
"The proponents of this bill have not even told us that jobs will return to America if this bill becomes law, much less how many. The answer is probably none," Hatch said.
Senate Democrats, working to bolster Obama's re-election bid, tied some U.S. job losses to Bain Capital, the firm that Romney headed for several years.
They highlighted plans by Bain-owned Sensata Technologies to send more than 100 jobs from an Illinois plant to China.
The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin, speaking to reporters before the vote on the jobs bill, said: "We can find out whether the Republican senators support the Bain Capital investment strategy of exporting jobs overseas. That will be a matter of record this afternoon."
All but four of the Senate's 47 Republicans voted to block the jobs bill. Sixty supporters were needed to advance the legislation, which failed on a 56-42 vote.
At a news conference to tout their jobs bill, Democrats also hit at Romney's refusal to release past income tax returns.
"What is in his tax returns that are so scary to Mitt Romney? Are there years he paid no taxes at all? Is there something in that Swiss bank account that raises a question?" asked Durbin.
Romney's refusal to release many years of income tax forms has dominated the presidential campaigns for several days now, leading some Republican strategists to worry that it could damage the candidate's prospects.
Romney maintains that his release of 2010 and 2011 tax information earlier this year is sufficient.
(Editing by Fred Barbash and Philip Barbara)