Another plank of President Barack Obama’s job creation plan has been defeated in the U.S. Senate, blocked by Republicans who objected to a modest tax boost to pay for increased infrastructure spending. Democrats returned the favor by voting down a competing Republican proposal that would have channeled unspent federal funds into public construction projects.
Lawmakers of both parties agree that the nation’s crumbling infrastructure needs repair and expansion, and that far too many Americans are out of work.
The solution is obvious, according to Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York. “All across the country, there are roads, bridges and sewer systems in need of serious repair. And in each of these places there are thousands of middle class families desperately looking for work. By voting to pass the Rebuild America Jobs Act, the Senate can get thousands of Americans off the unemployment line and back into the workforce,” Schumer said.
Borrowing from a jobs plan President Obama unveiled two months ago, Democrats proposed spending $60 billion on infrastructure projects across the nation, paid for by imposing a tax surcharge on annual incomes exceeding $1 million.
Republicans decried the plan as a tax-and-spend scheme that will harm private enterprise. Senator John Thune of South Dakota says there is a better way.
“To make it less costly, less difficult, easier for our small businesses to create jobs. If you look at what the Democrat agenda is, it is a doubling down on the policies that have already failed. It is raising taxes on the people who create jobs in this country,” Thune said.
Republicans voted to block debate on the Democratic proposal. Moments later, Democrats did the same to a Republican alternative that contained no new tax provisions.
Frustration over partisan gridlock led the Senate’s top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid, to accuse Republicans of economic sabotage for political gain.
“Their goal is to do everything they can to drag down this economy, in hopes that President Obama will be defeated [next year],” Reid said.
Republicans fired back, accusing Democrats of pushing politically-unviable legislation to draw partisan differences ahead of next year’s general elections. :
“Democrats have deliberately designed this bill to fail. So the truth is, Democrats are more interested in building a campaign message than in rebuilding roads and bridges,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The infrastructure program is but the latest component of President Obama’s jobs plan to be defeated by Republican lawmakers. Last month, Republicans also blocked an effort to prevent layoffs of teachers and emergency responders. Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa said Republicans seem to have a one-word vocabulary.
“If the word ‘no’ were removed from the English language, our Republican friends would be rendered speechless. Well, let me state the obvious. The word ‘no’ will not put millions of American back to work. The word ‘no’ will not allow us to undertake a robust program to modernize our transportation system,” Harkin said.
But Republicans accuse Democrats of ignoring jobs legislation passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
“The House has passed more than 15 bills that are currently awaiting a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Unfortunately, they [Democratic senators] are just allowing these bills to gather dust, and I do not think that is acceptable,” said House Speaker John Boehner.
A recent report by the World Economic Forum ranked U.S. infrastructure as 16th-best in the world, lagging behind nearly all its advanced industrialized competitors. Meanwhile, U.S. unemployment continues to hover around 9 percent.