Senate Dems to Call Up Jobs Bill Monday… With Transport Details TBA

Senate Democratic leaders appeared this morning to tout their commitment to passing a job-creation bill by the end of next week — but the substance of their jobs measure, including the fate of pivotal transportation provisions, remains up in the air.

harry_reid_rotunda2.jpgSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (Photo: LV City Life)

Harry Reid (D-NV), the upper chamber’s majority leader, told reporters that he was "hopeful" a bipartisan jobs bill could be ready for public view within the next day or two, followed by a first vote on Monday. "If not," he added, "[Democrats] will lay one down ourselves."

The Obama administration has called for the Senate to add more funding for TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery), the stimulus law’s $1.5 billion merit-based grant program, to its jobs plan. Reid indicated on Tuesday that his party was receptive to more TIGER aid.

Another infrastructure-centric provision attracting broad interest is an extension of Build America Bonds (BABs), which allow local governments to finance transportation projects more easily by offering a 35 percent federal subsidy. New York City’s transit authority is one of many local agencies turning to BABs to make debt offerings more attractive to private investors.

Finally, the politically tricky status of the highway trust fund remains on Congress’ plate, with the House and Senate still at odds over how to keep it funded nearly five months after the first expiration of the nation’s 2005 federal transportation law.

Reid said earlier this week that a one-year extension of the trust fund likely would be added to the Senate’s jobs bill. But with Senate Democrats aiming to coax Republicans on board by breaking up their economic-recovery agenda into smaller pieces, it remains to be seen whether the trust fund, BABs, or TIGER will make it into the legislation set for votes on Monday.

Also left unanswered is how much, if any, spending the Senate would direct at ready-to-go transportation projects. An initial jobs-bill outline circulated last week suggested that $14 billion for roads and $7.5 billion for transit could make it into the legislation, but Democrats offered no hint of whether those numbers were still in the mix.

The office of Senate environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who has taken the lead on the infrastructure elements of her party’s jobs program, did not immediately return a request for clarification of the timing for transportation spending.

If Senate Democrats were sure of anything this morning, however, it was the need for speedy consideration of the yet-to-emerge jobs provisions. "Let’s put these on the floor and move on them with a sense of urgency," Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) said.

Illustrating the pitfalls of the Democratic hopefulness that the still-to-come jobs plan could win GOP support is the following quote, which Politico attributes to a spokesman for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY):

I watched the Democrat leadership’s press conference just now and what
I learned is that there will be a vote Monday on ‘a bill.’ But that
they don’t know what’s in the bill or how many jobs they expect it to ‘save or create,’ or when anyone beyond the Beltway will see it, or how
much it will cost. They did have a nice sign,
though, and a pretty handout, so they obviously gave this some
thought.

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White House Economic Report Touts TIGER, High-Speed Rail, Transit

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The White House Council of Economic Advisers’ first annual report under President Obama made headlines today for its gloomy job-creation outlook, but tucked inside its 462 pages is a tangible reflection of a changed outlook on transportation policy under the new administration. Top White House economic adviser Christina Romer, at right, holds up yesterday’s report. […]