Next up for Obama jobs bill votes: spending on roads, bridges


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks during a news conference to urge passage of part of President Obama’s jobs package earlier this week. (Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP)

The Senate blocked the package last week. Since then, Congressional Democrats and the White House have pledged to break the American Jobs Act into pieces and force Senate votes on different elements of the plan.

Failure is virtually inevitable--but also part of the strategy. The goal is to show that Republicans are blocking Obama’s jobs proposals at every turn.

Republicans counter that the repeated votes are a campaign strategy and not a true legislative push to find job creation tools that could pass both the Senate and the GOP-led House.

Late Thursday, the Senate deadlocked 50 to 50 on a vote to proceed to debate on another piece of the president’s plan, to provide $35 billion in aid to states to hire teachers and first responders. The bill required 60 votes to move ahead. It would have been paid for with a 0.5 percent surtax on those making more than a $1 million a year, a tax increase that the GOP rejects.

Reid was joined on a conference call by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to advocate for a $50 billion of direct investment in road, bridge, rail and transit improvements, as well as the creation of a $10 billion infrastructure bank that could be used to leverage private investment for construction projects around the country.

They proposed paying for the bank with a 0.7 percent surtax on those making more than $1 million a year. Democrats are convinced that levying higher taxes on the wealthy is a popular way to fund job initiatives and they have indicated they plan to attach the funding proposal to each element of the president’s plan.

“We’re going to give Senate Republicans another chance to do what’s right for America,” Reid said. “They didn’t want to do the whole of the President’s bill. So we’re taking pieces of the President’s bill.”

LaHood and Klobuchar said the bill would put construction workers to work improving roads and bridges.

The 2009 stimulus bill included $48 billion for infrastructure building. Democrats say the measure worked--creating jobs and improving roads. But unemployment has remained above 9 percent and Republicans believe the 2009 act was unsuccessful.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results, yet that’s exactly what Senate Democrats are proposing today,” said Brian Walsh, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

They note some Democrats have joined Republicans to oppose Obama’s plan--Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), along with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) voted with Republicans to block aid for states Thursday.

And Democrats also blocked a GOP proposal Thursday to debate a bill that resembled another piece of Obama’s plan--a repeal of a 3 percent withholding tax on payments to government vendors set to go into effect in 2013.

House leaders have said they will hold a vote on a similar measure dealing with the withholding tax next week.

Democrats said they could not abide a proposal to pay for a tax change with a $30 billion cut in other spending. But Republicans contended the vote showed their opponents are only interested in debating parts of Obama’s plan they know do not have bipartisan support.

“I’ve said a number of times in recent days that the President doesn’t want Congress to pass his jobs bill; he wants to blame Republicans and use it on the campaign trail,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) after Thursday’s vote. He said the tally underscored that “Senate Democrat leadership simply isn’t interested in passing bipartisan legislation that can actually help our job creators expand their businesses and hire new workers.”

Obama has asked his Democratic allies in the Senate to hold a series of votes in coming weeks on other planks of his American Jobs Act, including tax credits for businesses that hire veterans and the long-term unemployed, an extension of benefits for unemployed workers and an extension of a payroll tax holiday.

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.

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