WASHINGTON — Two days after voting to block consideration of a $15 billion jobs bill, Sen. Jim Inhofe on Wednesday voted in favor of the legislation because of its boost in federal highway money.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said the long-term extension of federal highway programs — and an additional $20 billion for the highway trust fund — would mean $15 million more a month for Oklahoma. Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley said the Senate action was critical. "Today we have projects sitting in the queue but can’t move forward on them because of lack of funds,” Ridley said. "This winter has been especially hard on our bridges. Not properly funding our highway infrastructure is coming to a head, so getting this longer term extension done now is imperative.” The jobs bill, which includes tax incentives for small businesses to buy equipment and hire the unemployed, passed 70-28, as 13 Republicans helped Democrats send the bill to the U.S. House. Inhofe on Monday had voted, along with most Republicans, to block the bill from coming up, but Democrats got five Republicans to help clear the procedural hurdle. Inhofe said Monday his vote to block the bill was because Democratic leaders had not allowed amendments. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, maintained his opposition to the legislation Wednesday, saying it was "designed to preserve the jobs of members of Congress, not to help out-of-work Americans.” "Little is known about what the results of this bill will be because there was not one hearing or amendment about what the legislation will do,” Coburn said, adding that the legislation would add to the deficit. The bill may face some obstacles in the House. Rep. Jim Oberstar, the Minnesota Democrat who heads that chamber’s transportation committee, objected to the Senate formulation for highways, saying most of the extra money for the highway trust fund would go to a few states.