Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on Wednesday called the stripped-down jobs bill that the Senate will consider next week "critical" to state and local infrastructure projects, and that she expects a bipartisan vote of approval.
In a conference call with reporters, Boxer praised the $15 billion bill unveiled last week by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
The bill — the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act — extends the federal Highway Trust Fund, which is currently scheduled to expire at the end of the month, and also extends the Build America Bonds program to allow lower bonding rates for state and local governments. Boxer said the lower bond rates will preserve one million jobs.
Boxer said Democrats intend to return to the other provisions that Reid removed from the bill, naming more infrastructure spending and clean energy initiatives as likely topics.
"This bill is the first step, not the last," she said, adding that Reid "wanted a very tight bill."
Boxer said at least two Republicans, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and George Voinovich of Ohio, declared their support for the bill in a meeting 10 days ago and that more GOP senators may eventually sign on.
"It's hard for me to understand how anyone could oppose this," she said.
A Boxer representative clarified late Wednesday that Boxer was referring to Inhofe's support for the trust fund extension only, and not the overall bill.
An Inhofe aide said that the senator has not yet decided whether or not to vote for cloture.
Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.), ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, has been critical of the bill for its potential to add to the federal deficit. Boxer rejected that point, noting that interest owed to the trust fund is paying for the extension.
Boxer held the conference call with John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; Stephen Sandherr, CEO of Associated General Contractors of America; and William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.
UPDATE 5:42 p.m.
Senate Republicans on the Finance Committee have issued a position paper that blasts the bill — and the trust fund extension in particular — for adding to the federal debt and asserting it was drafted incorrectly.
"The surface transportation extension... in the draft Senate Tax/Stimulus/Highways Extender bill circulated last week is egregious," reads the statement from Gregg. "It gives rise to multiple budget points of order... and transfers $47 billion from the General Fund (GF) to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) over the next 10 years. The transfers from the GF to the HTF result in immediate increases in the federal debt."