The 51-49 vote in favor of proceeding to S 1769, the Rebuild America Jobs Act, was followed by rejection of a similar motion by House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. McConnell asked the Senate to proceed to a full debate on an alternative transportation bill, S 1786. Senators voted 53-47 against proceeding to that measure, the Long-Term Surface Transportation Extension Act.
The $60 billion Democratic bill would be paid for by adding a 0.7% surtax in income in excess of $1 million per year. It would make available $27 billion for highway projects distributed via traditional formulas; $6 billion for capital projects to modernize existing fixed-guideway transit systems and to replace and rehabilitate buses and bus facilities; $4 billion for projects to improve the nation's existing intercity passenger rail network and develop new high-speed-rail corridors; $3 billion for transit capital projects, particularly for the purchase of new buses and for the repair and rehabilitation of existing rail and bus systems; $2 billion to Amtrak for the repair, rehabilitation, and upgrade of the railroad's assets and infrastructure, including rolling stock; $2 billion for airport development grants; and $1 billion to conduct research and development and demonstrations and to acquire, establish, and improve FAA air navigation facilities, systems, and procedures to advance NextGen.
The Democratic bill, based on the president's jobs proposal, also includes $5 billion to award grants on a competitive basis for projects across all surface transportation modes that "will have a significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area, or a region," similar to the existing Transportation Investment Generating Economy Recovery program.
Senate Republicans' alternative bill contains numerous provisions including extending surface transportation authorization until September 2013, streamlining project delivery, reducing regulatory review timeframes, and eliminating the Transportation Enhancements program. The bill would also mandate that all new significant health, safety, and environmental regulations go through a congressional approval process before taking effect.
Obama and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood appeared Wednesday morning at the Key Bridge linking the District of Columbia and Virginia to press Congress to pass the transportation jobs bill. LaHood's blog posting on the event, which includes a video of Obama's speech, is available at bit.ly/KeyBridge110211.