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Senate Panel Approves Construction Bill in Rare Show of Bipartisanship

Demonstrating a remarkable burst of bipartisanship that appeared to surprise even committee members, a Senate committee unanimously passed a bill Wednesday to repair the nation's infrastructure that they pledge will do more than a failed measure proposed by President Obama. 

Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., announced the 18-0 vote in the Environment and Public Works Committee. She then praised ranking Republican James Inhofe, R-Okla., for being "tough but fair."

That and other praise among the lawmakers prompted Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., to comment, "I think we ought to change the name of the committee to the goodwill committee."

The Senate bill will spend $85 billion over two years, compared to Obama's legislation, which would have spent $57 billion over 10 years. Senate lawmakers predicted the measure -- which is all but paid for -- could create as many as 1 million jobs.

Everyone from liberal Democrats to conservative Republicans praised the new bill as well as each other. The only discussion point not meriting the same camaraderie was Obama's plan, which stalled in the Senate last week. 

Calling it "a political exercise, essentially designed to fail," Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said the reason for success this time around is "this is a jobs bill. This is an infrastructure bill which is designed to succeed and can succeed."

Not a single Democrat spoke up for Obama's plan. which he used last week to blame Congress and Republicans for blocking job creation.

"We can't wait for Congress to do its job. If they won't act, I will," Obama said last week at an event at a bridge between Washington and suburban Virginia.

But Congress was already working on an infrastructure bill -- just not his, and Republicans noted that even though the president was campaigning on the slogan "we can't wait," much of his proposed spending would not have come for years.

"According to the CBO, less than one tenth of the funds in the Democrat proposal will be spent next year," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., "and roughly 40 percent won't be spent until after 2015, after 2015. ... 

"This hardly matches the president's calls for doing something quote 'right away,'" McConnell said.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., noted that the current bill has half the pages of the last highway bill and one other claim to fame. 

"The last bill had 6,000 earmarks, and there are none in this one," he said.

But with that legislation behind them, Boxer and others praised lawmakers for crafting a compromise.

"I couldn't be more proud today to be chairman of this committee," Boxer said. "The bill before us is completely bipartisan."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., also congratulated leaders of both parties "for the success you have brought in bringing us together around what I think is going to be a very significant and helpful bill."

Jim Angle currently serves as chief national correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined FNC in 1996 as a senior White House correspondent.