By Bobby Caina Calvan
Senator John Kerry today urged passage of another major piece of the president's jobs package, a transportation jobs bill that would help help rebuild bridges, improve the country's rail network, and modernize other aging infrastructure -- while creating much needed jobs.
Congress this week is expected to take up President Barack Obama's Rebuild America Jobs Act, a $60 billion package, financed by a tax on the wealthiest Americans, that would provide $50 billion in spending for roads, bridges, airports and other projects. It would also establish a national "infrastructure bank," using $10 billion in seed money from the federal government, that would provide loans for much needed infrastructure projects.
Kerry told his Senate colleagues that "the experts are telling us we have a $2.2 trillion infrastructure deficit in America."
The latest jobs bill is the second stand-alone legislation to come before Congress in recent weeks. Last month, congressional Democrats failed to muster the votes to win passage of a jobs bill to hire more teachers and firefighters.
Kerry, a member of the congressional debt-slashing super committee, said he knows there are limited federal funds. "So the proposal for an infrastructure bank is a proposal that recognizes this fiscal reality," he said. "We simply don't have and will not allocate the types of funds necessary to do the job that every American knows has to be done. That doesn't mean the job can't be done. There's a way to do it, and the way to do it is to invite other people's money -- the private sector, not the tax dollar -- to come to the table and invest in these projects."
The bill could be a tough sell on Republicans, who have been vociferous in their opposition to using taxes to finance the president's jobs programs.
Republicans countered with their own plan later in the day. The GOP version, led by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the Senate Finance Committee's ranking member, would extend for two years the current federal highway program, but it was unclear how the measure would be financed. The Republicans said their plan would not be paid for with new taxes.