Democrats are still working on their election-year portrait of Republicans as the enemies of job creation, and transportation spending is the next color on their palate.
Just hours after the failure of a bill spending $35 billion preserving jobs for teachers and first responders, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that Democrats will soon proffer $60 billion in infrastructure projects as way to create jobs. It's paid for with a 0.7% surtax on income over $1 million.
It's Democrats' second try pairing popular parts of President Obama's defeated jobs plan with tax increases on millionaires. In this case, Dems are going for $50 billion for myriad transportation projects and $10 billion in seed money for a federal infrastructure bank. The bank would fund transportation projects and also water, sewer and other infrastructure needs.
"We’re going to give Senate Republicans another chance to do the right thing," Reid told reporters on a conference call Friday.
Right or wrong, the bill stands little chance of becoming law. Republicans have shown unanimous opposition to using a millionaire's surtax to pay for stimulus spending. And while the idea of an infrastructure bank has bipartisan support in the Senate, House Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) has declared it "dead on arrival."
Still, the bill gives congressional Democrats and President Obama more ammunition against Republicans as they try to cast them protecting the rich at the expense of jobs. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood criticized fellow Republicans for "giving great speeches" about job creation but refusing to back the president on legislation. He said he'd "travel the country" calling GOP lawmakers to task and urging them to support the bill.
"A bill that builds roads and bridges and transit systems around the country is the best way to put friends and neighbors back to work,” LaHood said.
The GOP isn't having it. "Two years after spending tens of billions of dollars on ‘shovel ready’ projects in his first stimulus bill, President Obama famously admitted that those projects weren’t as shovel-ready as he thought they were. It would be the height of irresponsibility to make the same mistake twice," said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Though still in draft form, the bill calls for spending on a variety of transpo goodies, including $27 billion for highway restoration, repair, and construction projects; $3 billion for transit projects, $2 billion for Amtrak; $2 billion for airport development; and $1 billion for aviation navigation including NextGen. It also has money for buses, surface transportation grants, and metropolitan projects.
Reid said he'll put the bill on the Senate floor the week of November 1, when lawmakers return from a week-long recess. If this vote goes how the last two have gone, expect Republicans to oppose it, come up with their own alternative, and for the election-year politics to fly.