Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said a Democratic bill to provide $60 billion for transportation infrastructure funding was designed to give jobs back to construction workers.
Updated: 4:03 p.m.
Dueling infrastructure jobs bills tanked on the Senate floor today, with both Republicans and Democrats failing to get filibuster-proof majorities for their respective proposals.
In key procedural votes, Democrats fell nine votes short of moving their bill forward, while Republicans fell 13 votes short. Both bills needed to secure 60 votes to avoid a filibuster.
Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) were the only two members of the Democratic caucus to vote against the party’s proposal. On the GOP proposal, Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) was the only Democrat to support it, but Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe voted with all other Democrats against her party.
The Democratic plan, which is essentially the second element of President Barack Obama’s proposed jobs package, would provide $60 billion for transportation infrastructure funding and would be paid for with a 0.7 percent tax on millionaires — an offset Republicans have repeatedly refused to support.
The bill contains $27 billion for highways, $9 billion for mass transit, $2 billion for airports and $10 billion for innovative financing initiatives. The measure also includes $10 billion for the creation of a national infrastructure bank to direct federal resources for infrastructure to projects that demonstrate the most merit and may be difficult to fund under the current patchwork of federal programs.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the measure is designed to put construction workers back on the job. They have been hit hard by the recession and suffer from an unemployment rate of 13.3 percent, more than 4 points higher than the 9.1 percent national unemployment rate.
“The legislation we will deal with this afternoon deals with putting people back to work, hundreds of thousands of construction workers,” Reid said on the floor.
Republicans opposed the legislation because of the offset. They also question the success of the 2009 stimulus package, which included funds for transportation infrastructure among other things. GOP Members also believe that similar policies, such as the Democrats’ jobs proposals, will waste resources rather than help the economy.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), citing the Congressional Budget Office, said that the Democrats’ bill, which is projected to only spend about $4.5 billion next year, would not do much to create jobs in the short term.
“According to the CBO, less than one tenth of the funds in the Democrat proposal will be spent next year,” McConnell said. “And roughly 40 percent won’t be spent until after 2015. This hardly matches the president’s calls for doing something ‘right away.’”
McConnell also said the offset would “pay for this temporary spending bill with a permanent tax hike on job creators.
“Republicans and yes, some Democrats, don’t think we should be taxing job creators, particularly at a time when 14 million Americans are looking for a job — and that we’ll vote against any proposal that does so,” McConnell said.
In a back-and-forth on the Senate floor Reid said he believes that it makes sense for more well-off people to pay a little more in taxes.
“I do not believe that we should be concerned about a piece of legislation that asks the richest of the rich to pay a few pennies of their vast fortunes to put people like my friend back to work,” Reid said. “That’s what this is all about.”
The Republican proposal would extend the current highway bill – which funds infrastructure projects – for another two years. The measure also would curtail the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to make rules and regulations, which Republicans have argued have exacerbated the recession by hamstringing small businesses.
The bill is paid for by directing Office of Management and Budget director Jacob Lew to rescind $40 billion from unobligated discretionary funding.
“The rest of the American people can decide which approach they prefer: our proposal, which doesn’t add to the deficit, doesn’t raise taxes, empowers the states to make decisions on the local level and is designed to gain bipartisan support,” McConnell said. “Or the Democrat’s top-down approach, which perpetuates uncertainty, raises taxes on businesses at a time when we should be giving them more reasons to hire not less, and which was designed in coordination with the White House political team to fail.
“These are the two approaches on display in the Senate today. The choice should be obvious,” McConnell added.