WASHINGTON - Republicans in the Senate on Thursday dealt President Obama the third in a string of defeats on his stimulus-style jobs agenda, blocking a $60 billion measure for building and repairing infrastructure such as roads and rail lines.
Supporters of the measure said it would have created tens of thousands of construction jobs and lifted the economy. Republicans unanimously opposed it for its tax surcharge on the wealthy and spending totals that they said were too high.
The 51-49 vote fell well short of the 60 votes required under Senate procedures to start work on the bill. Every Republican opposed the president, as did Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska and former Democrat Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.), who still aligns with the party.
Obama's loss was anything but a surprise, but the White House and its Democratic allies continue to press popular ideas from Obama's poll-tested jobs package in what Republicans say is nothing more than a bare-knuckle attempt to gain a political edge by invoking the mantra of jobs but doing little to seek compromise.
"Democrats are more interested in building a campaign message than in rebuilding roads and bridges," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said. "And frankly, the American people deserve a lot better than that."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said of the Republicans: "Their goal is to do everything they can to drag down this economy, to do anything they can to focus attention negatively on the President of the United States in hopes that he can get my job, perhaps, and that President Obama will be defeated. So let's not talk about campaign speeches here on the Senate floor. Let's talk about reality."
In a statement, Obama said of the vote to block his plan, "It makes no sense when you consider that this bill was made up of the same kinds of common-sense proposals that many of these senators have fought for in the past."
After Republicans blocked Obama's infrastructure plan, his Democratic allies immediately killed a competing GOP infrastructure plan that would have extended existing highway and transit spending programs and paid for them with a $40 billion cut in unspent funding for other domestic programs. The White House opposed the measure over its spending cuts and provisions that would block recent clean-air rules and make it harder for the administration to issue new rules.
Obama announced his $447 billion jobs plan in September and has begun a campaign-style effort - featuring multiple rallies in states crucial to his reelection bid - to try to get it passed. Last month, Republicans blocked the entire package and a subsequent effort by Democrats to pass a $35 billion piece of it aimed at preventing layoffs of teachers and firefighters.