A conservative minority in the Senate earlier today voted against allowing an infrastructure jobs bill to come to a floor vote, continuing a pattern of obstruction that has blocked every significant effort to get people working on the jobs that need to be done.
The cloture vote—the procedural vote to allow final debate—on the Rebuild America Jobs Act was 51 to 49, with Republicans using the 60-vote cloture threshold to quash majority support for the legislation. As we explained earlier this week, the bill would provide $60 billion to fund work on roads, bridges, public transportation networks and airports. Of that, $10 billion would fund an infrastructure bank that would be used to attract private capital for these projects.
The cost of the bill would be covered by a 0.7% surtax on income in excess of $1 million. In other words, for every $1,000 over $1 million a person earned during the course of a year, that person's tax bill would go up an additional $7 to pay for the legislation. The benefit that all Americans would get in return would be hundreds of thousands of people being put back to work on long overdue projects that would enable people and good to move through the country more efficiently.
Instead of supporting this bill, Senate conservatives put forward their own so-called "jobs bill" that Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said would actually result in the loss of 200,000 jobs. The legislation would provide limited funding for transportation projects, but it also incorporates language from House bills designed to severely cripple the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies. The legislation would, among other things, effectively block the ability of the EPA to impose updated clean air regulations on fossil-fuel power plants.
That legislation also failed to garner 60 votes; the final vote was 47-53.
The media will most likely portray today's Senate action as yet another example of "both sides playing partisan politics" and neither side getting serious about addressing the crisis of 14 million jobless people and an economy that the Federal Reserve just on Wednesday announced would be barely growing over the next two years. But that would be wrong.
The Rebuild America Jobs Act is in fact a serious proposal designed to address a real need to update a transportation system that in virtually every respect gets a failing grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. It is legislation that both the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce agreed would be beneficial to the economy. As for the surtax to pay for its cost, most reputable economists would have argued that at least in the short term this is precisely the kind of deficit spending we need to help energize the private sector, which would have been the real beneficiaries of the bill. After all, it's not "bureaucrats" who build roads; it's construction companies and dozens of other categories of private contractors. But in this age in which politics demands that spending like this be "paid for" even if that is not sound economics, asking the top 1 percent of Americans to dig a little deeper is reasonable, especially when many of these same 1 percent stand to benefit disproportionately from a rebounding economy.
The conservative counterproposal, sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was more of an ideological jeremiad. It contains a requirement that major executive branch regulations have to be put up to Congress for a vote. Lobbyists who are already having a relatively easy time hamstringing executive agencies attempting to execute laws passed by Congress (that were already diluted as they ran the lobbying gantlet) will now have yet another opportunity to quash efforts to hold them accountable for their actions, and to subvert the interests of the people. The legislation would also quash clean air rules that would have required older fossil-fuel power plants to upgrade to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, a step that would have not only given us cleaner air but would have put many thousands of people to work on the tasks needed to bring the plans into compliance.
That should clear up the confusion about which side was serious about creating jobs and which side was seeking to score political points for their corporate overlords. Unfortunately, the real losers are the more than 24 million Americans with either no job or a make-do part-time job.