Coming Soon: A Senate Jobs Bill … With a New Approach to Transport?

The House disappointed more than a few transportation reformers last month in passing a major jobs bill with $75 billion for infrastructure but no merit-based funding or changes from the existing formulas for highways and transit.

durbin2.jpgSenate Democratic No. 2 Dick Durbin (D-IL) (Photo: STLToday)

Hopes for a more pathbreaking approach to what’s been dubbed the "second stimulus" now rest with the Senate, where Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and soon-to-retire Byron Dorgan (D-ND) are taking the lead in crafting job-creation legislation.

The Senate is expected to turn to Durbin and Dorgan’s final product as soon as the health care bill is completed, and The Hill reports today that the duo is still poring over no fewer than 121 pitches from fellow Democrats:

They are considering new transit and highway spending and
efforts to help stave off public employee layoffs, as well as a new tax credit
for businesses hiring new workers and a program providing incentives for
homeowners to retrofit their homes, according to a source off Capitol Hill. …

The House bill did not include the tax credit and
“cash for caulkers” proposals, which are supported by President Barack Obama.

Dorgan presided over a hearing last month where a top Treasury Department adviser endorsed more competitive transportation spending that puts roads, transit, ports, and other modes on equal footing — the U.S. DOT’s popular TIGER grant program serving as a prime example.

The House opted to leave the TIGER program untouched in its jobs bill. But Senate leaders’ openness to ideas not included in the lower chamber’s legislation, such as the "cash for caulkers" retrofitting plan, suggests that merit-based transport money may not be off the table.

Stay tuned … the Senate jobs bill is expected to emerge not long after the chamber returns to session following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

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