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Today: Senate Debates Infra Bank, Transpo Funding, Regulations, and More

11:49 AM EDT on November 3, 2011

This morning, the Senate is debating two transportation-related bills: the Rebuild America Jobs Act (S.1769) and the Long-Term Surface Transportation Extension Act (S.1786).

The Rebuild America Jobs Act is a piece of President Obama's jobs bill that was broken off in hopes that it could pass on its own. It would invest $50 billion on infrastructure projects and another $10 billion in seed money for an infrastructure bank, to be paid for with a 0.7 percent surtax on incomes over $1 million.

Taxing the rich and increasing government spending -- now there's a recipe for some partisan rancor.

So far Democratic Leader Harry Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell have traded barbs that each is just engaged in election-year sloganeering. Reid said 76 percent of the American people approve of the plan to tax the "top two-tenths of one percent." But McConnell said those 76 percent might change their minds if they knew that "four out of five of those high-income individuals are actually business owners." They haven't talked much about the merits of infrastructure investment.

Note that not all of the big players who lined up behind increased investment and an infrastructure bank favor this bill. Bruce Josten of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for instance, said yesterday in a letter to senators [PDF] that the Rebuild America Jobs Act "fails to provide the multi-year funding certainty and fails to establish the policy and program reforms sorely needed to create jobs and support economic growth" and "only continues to delay and frustrate the serious and much needed debate on the sustained long-term investment required to address America’s infrastructure crisis.”

Of course, it's worth noting that Josten represents the two-tenths of one percent that would be paying higher taxes to fund the I-Bank under this proposal. But he makes a good point  -- reformers, too, shouldn't take their eyes off the ball of a serious revamping of policy, not just short-term funding injections without better guidance on how to spend it.

Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is pushing his oddly named Long-Term Surface Transportation Extension Act. But Congress passed a transportation extension until March, you might say -- and you'd be right. Hatch's bill isn't an extension of the transportation bill -- it's an attempt at deregulation. "This legislation seeks only to put rational decision-making into the foundation of our regulatory and rule-making processes that are too often driven by the special interests of largely unaccountable and fully unelected regulatory bureaucrats wishing to impose their preferences on America's job creators," Hatch said on the floor.

He went after environmental reviews, a favorite punching bag of the GOP -- and an increasingly common target of Democrats -- for the delays they can cause on infrastructure projects.

Hatch also mentioned that Democrats often refer to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report (ranking U.S. infrastructure #23 in the world) to justify the creation of an infrastructure bank to fund "specially chosen and favored risky projects.” Meanwhile, Hatch said, the same report finds that the most "problematic factors for doing business in America" are tax rates, inefficient government bureaucracy, access to financing, and tax regulations -- not inadequate infrastructure.

And for those keeping score on Senate Republicans' attempts to kill bike/ped funding, Hatch said his bill also "calls for elimination of dedicated funding for transportation enhancements and gives states the authority to decide whether to spend resources on bike paths and other such add-ons."

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