Senate Blocks $60 Billion Infrastructure "Jobs Bill"; GOP Counters

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(Washington, DC)  The Senate blocked a politically-charged $60 billion infrastructure bill Thursday, continuing the partisan stand-off over transportation and jobs.

Meanwhile, House GOP leaders unveiled a major counter-proposal. They’re offering fully funded highway projects in the upcoming transportation authorization with royalties from expanded oil drilling.

The widely-expected result Tuesday came after Senate Democrats failed to break a GOP-led filibuster, blocking the bill from reaching the Senate floor. It also added fuel to President Obama’s election-year claim that Republicans are too bent on partisan politics to cooperate with the White House on job creation.

The bill proposed $50 billion in new spending on transportation infrastructure projects, including highways, transit, Amtrak, high-speed rail, and other categories on Democrats’ wish list. It also included $10 billion in start-up money for a federal infrastructure bank. That proposal has bipartisan support in the Senate but lacks GOP backing in the House.

The bill was paid for with a 0.7% surtax on income over $1 million.

Democrats pushed the bill as a way to pressure Republicans after the defeat of the $447 billion American Jobs Act. Some polls put support for infrastructure spending above 70%.

But Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Speaker of the House, accused Democrats of using infrastructure spending to box Republicans in politically. “The Senate this week is voting on another bill that is designed to fail,” he said.

A few hours later Boehner’s office announced it would introduce a new highway funding proposal “in the coming weeks." The bill, expected to be part of a proposed 6-year transportation reauthorization, would make up for expected shortfalls in the Highway Trust Fund with royalties from increased oil drilling.

The move could set up a difficult choice for Democrats: whether to accept expanded fossil fuel drilling, which many oppose, in order to reap the employment benefits of a robustly funded highway bill.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, appeared to reject the idea several weeks ago. “If they're talking about controversial new offshore oil drilling, which is what I think they're doing, that just sets up a huge fight. And that's the last thing you want,” she said.

Also Tuesday, Democrats blocked a Republican-backed alternative bill that funded transportation projects with cuts in other government spending.

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich