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Senate blocks $35B public safety bill

  |   Oct. 20, 2011 at 11:11 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate Thursday rejected a $35 billion bill to provide federal money to state and local governments to avoid layoffs of teachers and first-responders.

The bill had been part of the $447 billion jobs bill promoted by President Barack Obama before it was rejected Oct. 12 by Senate Republicans.

All 47 Republicans -- joined by two Democrats and one Independent -- voted against a motion to proceed to debate on the bill, The Washington Post reported. Fifty Democrats voted to move the bill forward but 60 votes were required to stop the GOP filibuster.

Republicans opposed a 0.5 percent surtax on incomes over $1 million that Democrats had proposed to pay for the $35 billion measure.

Addressing firefighters, police officers, teachers, nurses and other workers in a Senate hearing room Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden said the prospect of layoffs among those workers was "an emergency" -- noting that more than 300,000 teachers, 10,000 law-enforcement officers and 7,000 firefighters have been laid off since April of last year.

"The police chief of Camden [N.J.] has lost half of his force, and crime has gone through the roof," Biden said. "It's not really the fault of the mayor or the governor. They don't have the money because of this God-awful mess we got put into."

Crime victims are having to wait longer for emergency responders, and some school systems were eliminating kindergarten and increasing class sizes, he said.

The public safety legislation, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, would put 400,000 teachers back in classrooms, 18,000 police officers on the streets and 7,000 firefighters back in firehouses, he said.

Republicans call the bill "bailout lite," say it's only temporary and complain the rescue would be paid for in part by raising a 0.5 percent tax on people making more than $1 million.

"What's going on is that Democrats are obsessed for some reason with raising taxes," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "That's the only possible way to explain their latest idea to impose a permanent tax hike on about 300,000 U.S. business owners, and then use the money to bail out cities and states that can't pay their bills.

"More bailouts aren't going to solve this problem," he said. "They'll just enable it."

Moderate Democrats who said they would vote against the bill -- even though it supports first responders providing pre-hospital care in medical emergencies – said they opposed it because it raises taxes.

"As soon as you start talking about revenues, people stop talking about spending cuts," Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., told The Christian Science Monitor.

Nelson is up for re-election in 2012.

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