By DAVID LIGHTMAN
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama stood Wednesday before an aging Washington bridge and urged a bitterly divided Congress to approve his plan to boost infrastructure spending, but the effort is likely to be blocked Thursday in the Senate.
That would be no surprise to Obama, who since unveiling his $447 billion jobs package two months ago has seen his ideas rejected, largely along party lines. The partisan schism was evident again Wednesday, as both sides embraced long-held philosophical stands and saw political gain from their refusal to budge.
Democrats want higher taxes on millionaires to pay for the infrastructure plan. Republicans don’t. Republicans in the House of Representatives have led the way in passing a series of bills to provide private-sector initiatives aimed at creating jobs. Democrats vow to keep pushing the Obama package.
There was little evidence that the two sides are taking serious steps to reach consensus on efforts to bring down the nation’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate.
Obama, standing next to the Key Bridge, which spans the Potomac River to link northwest Washington with northern Virginia, tried to be both presidential and partisan.
“Infrastructure shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he said.
He quoted President Ronald Reagan in citing infrastructure initiatives as “an investment in tomorrow that we must make today.”
Obama asked, “Since when do we have Republicans voting against Ronald Reagan’s ideas? There’s no good reason to oppose this bill, not one, and members of Congress who do, who vote no, are going to have to explain why to their constituencies.”
At one point, he ridiculed Congress for digressing by debating smaller matters, such as a House measure reaffirming the nation’s “In God We Trust” motto.
“That’s not putting people back to work,” Obama said. “I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work.”
Republicans insisted they’re eager to create jobs, too, and urged Obama to stop campaigning and reason with them.
“While the president is out doing campaign events all over the country, what he could do is to actually come to Washington and be focused on trying to help pass bills that would create a better environment for job creation and help put the American people back to work,” said House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
Senate Democrats’ infrastructure package would be funded by a 0.7 percent surtax on millionaires.
“It (asks) millionaires and billionaires to contribute just a little bit more than they do now. A little bit more,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“It was paid for,” Obama said Wednesday of his package, “and yet they said no. The truth is the only way we can attack our economic challenges on the scale that’s needed is with bold action by Congress.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky found the Democrats’ plan misguided.
“It’s not exactly a state secret that Republicans – and yes, some Democrats – don’t think we should be raising taxes right now on the very people we’re counting on to create the jobs we need to get us out of a jobs crisis,” he said. “And yet the one thing that every single proposal Democrats bring to the floor has in common is that it does just that.”
The Rebuild America Jobs Act being debated by the Senate would spend $50 billion in immediate investments on highway, transit, rail and aviation projects. An additional $10 billion would help establish a national infrastructure bank that would help fund a number of projects.
No one expects Democrats to succeed Thursday. “Every Democrat knows it’s not going to pass,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Then why bother? “We get people focused on an issue where we can bring people together,” explained Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Obama in recent days has insisted he can help create jobs by taking certain steps that don’t need congressional approval.
Wednesday, he announced a series of steps, including directing the Transportation Department to expedite $527 million in grants to help rebuild infrastructure; establishing a special team to expedite the environmental review of certain projects; and making the application process for the next round of federal loans for major projects easier.
Obama’s plan to speed the award of loans to state and local governments for large-scale transportation projects has good job-creation potential, transportation experts say. The program now gets $112 million, but legislation pending in Congress – with substantial bipartisan support – could boost that sum to about $1 billion.
The $1 billion loan program is part of a larger, two-year, $109 billion surface transportation funding bill. It’s seen by both sides as less politically motivated – and has been far less publicized – than Obama’s package, and is seen by lawmakers as necessary to help pay for crucial infrastructure projects back home.
The $60 billion Democratic infrastructure plan, on the other hand, is considered a highly political proposal, one where Republicans could get political mileage by denying the president a victory – and Obama and the Democrats can cultivate voters by championing the extra spending and the tax on the wealthy.