The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Monday, November 21, 2011

Big and small infrastructure jobs bills fail in Senate

By The Building Tradesman

WASHINGTON – Legislation that would create infrastructure jobs for the building trades and save jobs for other workers has been shot down as a whole, and in parts, by Senate Republicans.

On Oct. 10, President Obama’s original $447 billion American Jobs Act was “defeated” in the Senate mostly along party lines by a vote of 50-in favor to 48-against. A real winning majority these days in the Senate requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

To keep the jobs issue in front of American voters, Obama vowed to break down the package into small portions and present them piecemeal to what he calls the “do-nothing Congress.” His running joke is that the smaller pieces would make it easier for opposition Republicans in the Senate to understand. But on Nov. 3, the Senate similarly voted 51-49, to essentially kill a bill that would have provided $50 billion in transportation spending and $10 billion to start up a national infrastructure bank.

Another bill that was part of Obama’s original package was defeated in the Senate on Oct. 20; it would have provided $35 billion in federal aid to local units of government to hire and retain teachers, police and firefighters.

“For the third time in recent weeks,” Obama said after the Nov. 3 vote, “every single Republican in the United States Senate has chosen to obstruct a jobs bill that independent economists said would boost our economy and put Americans back to work. At a time when more than a million construction workers are looking for a job, they voted ‘no’ to putting them back to work doing the work America needs done – rebuilding our roads, bridges, airports and transit systems. That makes no sense.

“It was fully paid for. And even though it was supported by more than 70 percent of the American people – Republicans, Democrats, and independents – 100 percent of Senate Republicans said no. It’s more clear than ever that Republicans in Washington are out of touch with Americans from all ends of the political spectrum. The American people deserve to know why their Republican representatives in Washington refuse to put some of the workers hit hardest by the economic downturn back on the job rebuilding America.”

None of the bills Obama has proposed had much of a chance in the Senate, and would have had zero chance of even being brought up for a vote in the Republican-led House. The president has acknowledged that these jobs bills are being brought up to make a distinction between which party wants to wear the badge of job creator going into next year’s elections.

“The truth is, Democrats are more interested in building a campaign message than in rebuilding roads and bridges,” said Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). “And frankly, the American people deserve a lot better than that.”

Republicans have claimed that the $887 billion stimulus package failed because it didn’t turn the economy around, and these smaller packages would be more of the same. Labor and Dems say the stimulus did create jobs, and a bigger stimulus would have created more jobs.

The AFL-CIO Building Trades Department lobbied both Democrats and Republicans – some of whom have been friendly in the past – to pass infrastructure funding legislation.

“It should be obvious to everyone that our nation has crippling infrastructure needs,” said Building Trades Department President Mark Ayers in a letter to all U.S. senators. “Both parties in Congress have failed to fully reauthorize the FAA or Surface Transportation, provide funding for water infrastructure or rebuild our crumbling schools, thus forcing the need for infrastructure to be considered as a large package outside of regular order.

“If senators refuse to act to put America back to work, they shouldn’t be surprised when America refuses to send them back to work next November . Our members and all of America will be watching to see who is looking out for their interests, or the interests of millionaires.”