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Senate unveils next piece of Obama jobs bill

By Andrew Taylor

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 21 2011 3:30 p.m. MDT

Vice President Joe Biden speaks with Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, during a news conference to urge the passage of the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., is at left.

Haraz N. Ghanbari, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's Senate allies said Friday that the next piece of his failed $447 billion jobs measure to get a vote would be a $60 billion program for roads, bridges and other public works projects.

Like two earlier proposals, this piece figures to be unanimously opposed by Republicans and a few Democrats over its stimulus-style spending and tax surcharge on the very wealthy. A test vote on the measure will come after the Senate returns from vacation next month.

The legislation would provide an immediate $50 billion investment in roads, bridges and airports, and transit systems. It also would establish a $10 billion bank to leverage private and public capital for longer-term infrastructure projects.

"This legislation will create hundreds of thousands of construction jobs rebuilding our roads, bridges and infrastructure," said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

The measure would be financed by a 0.7 percentage point surcharge on income over $1 million.

The announcement by Senate Democrats came the day after Republicans scuttled a pared-back jobs measure designed to boost hiring of teachers and first responders.

That $35 billion measure combined $30 billion for state and local governments to hire teachers and other school workers with $5 billion to help pay the salaries of police officers, firefighters and other first responders.

The White House said it would "support" almost 400,000 education jobs for one year. Republicans called that a temporary "sugar high" for the economy and said it was a public bailout of state and local governments.

Obama and his Democratic allies are acting like they've found a winning issue in repeatedly pressing popular ideas such as infrastructure spending and boosting hiring of police officers and firefighters. The sluggish economy and lower tax revenues have caused many teachers' jobs to be cut over the past several years.

"For the second time in two weeks, every single Republican in the United States Senate has chosen to obstruct a bill that would create jobs and get our economy going again," Obama said in a statement after the vote. "Every American deserves an explanation as to why Republicans refuse to step up to the plate and do what's necessary to create jobs and grow the economy right now."

Countered GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida: "We cannot afford to be bailing out local governments, and we can't afford stimulus 2.0."

An Associated Press-GfK poll taken Oct. 13-17 found 62 percent of respondents favoring the tax surcharge as a way to pay for jobs initiatives. Just 26 percent opposed the idea.

"Hopefully, maybe, after they take another recess, Senate Republicans will hear from their constituents, come back with a different attitude about what this economy needs right now," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday.

More ominously for Democrats, however, the poll shows that Obama's party has lost the faith of the public on handling the economy. In it, only 38 percent said they trust Democrats to do a better job than Republicans in handling the economy, the first time Democrats have fallen below 40 percent in the poll. Some 43 percent trust the Republicans more.

"The fact is we're not going to get this economy going again by growing the government. It's the private sector that's ultimately going to drive this recovery," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.

Immediately after the vote on Obama's jobs plan, Democrats turned the tables and stalled Republican-backed legislation that would prevent the government from withholding 3 percent of payments to government contractors.

Many Democrats and Obama support the idea but object to pay for it with $30 billion in cuts from domestic agency spending. Advocates of repealing the withholding requirement say it will help create jobs, especially from contractors on large projects with smaller profit margins.

The GOP-controlled House is likely to pass the measure next week and Reid promised that the Senate would revisit the issue.

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