WASHINGTON DIGEST: Senate Republicans vote to block $35 billion part of president’s jobs plan

WASHINGTON — The Senate last week blocked passage of a $35 billion piece of President Barack Obama’s “American Jobs Act” that would help cities and counties keep teachers, firefighters and police employed.

Senate Democrats backed the assistance, saying it would save roughly 300,000 teaching and 100,000 public safety jobs.

Republicans questioned the promised benefits, saying states could simply use the funds to offset local spending.

They also balked at imposing a millionaire surtax to pay for the initiative.

Democrats plan to hold a series of weekly votes on portions of Obama’s $447 billion jobs proposal.

The Senate will take up legislation aimed at boosting spending on roads and bridges when lawmakers return to work Oct. 31.

The $35 billion bill was scuttled on a procedural vote that required a 60-vote majority to move forward. The Senate vote was 50-50.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted for the bill. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., opposed it.

SENATE DEBATES APPROPRIATIONS MEASURES

The bulk of Senate floor debate last week was devoted to a $128 billion bill wrapping together fiscal 2012 funding for the Agriculture, Judiciary and Transportation departments.

While debate will continue on the overall bill, the Senate disposed of a number of amendments, including one to prohibit transportation spending on landscaping and historic preservation.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., proposed to restrict the 10 percent of highway funds set aside for enhancements to bicycle paths and environmental improvements for wildlife. He and allies said the money should be spent on higher priority needs.

“We should not be building a welcome center when there is one bridge in any state that is a danger for the American people who are going across it,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

But Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., argued against the restriction, saying that states should decide how the money should be spent.

Meanwhile, Sen. Patty Murray, R-Wash., said the amendment would “cripple Amtrak” by prohibiting it from operating or rehabilitating 126 stations in 41 states that are on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Senate voted 59-39 to table McCain’s amendment.

Heller voted for the McCain amendment. Reid voted against it.

COMMERCE SECRETARY CONFIRMED

The Senate confirmed Californian John Edgar Bryson to be secretary of commerce on a 74-26 vote.

Bryson, who was nominated in May, will succeed Gary Locke.

Reid praised Bryson as an experienced businessman who would bring “important hands-on experience to the challenge of putting Americans back to work.”

Bryson led Edison International from 1990 to 2008. He serves on the board of directors of Boeing and Walt Disney.

Inhofe, the Republican senator from Oklahoma, stalled Bryson’s confirmation for months because of his concerns about Bryson’s views on global warming and environmental regulation.

Bryson helped co-found the National Resources Defense Council in 1970. Inhofe complained that the group is “one of the most radical, left-wing, extreme environmentalist groups” and promotes policies that would drastically raise electricity and gasoline prices to the detriment of the economy.

Reid voted for Bryson. Heller opposed him.

The House was not in session last week. It returns this week.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Peter Urban at purban@stephensmedia.com or at 202-783-1760.

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