Under the gun on jobs, Obama tells Congress to pass major transportation bill
As he prepares for his critical speech on jobs, President Obama is urging Congress to fund a major transportation bill. It pays for infrastructure work on roads, bridges, and mass transit systems.
In a run-up to his much-anticipated jobs speech next Thursday, President Obama is banging the drum for legislation that would save thousands â€“ perhaps millions â€“ of jobs around the country right now.
Itâ€™s the Surface Transportation Bill, which funds construction of roads, bridges, mass transit systems, and other infrastructure projects with gasoline taxes. Without congressional action extending the billâ€™s authority, such funding would halt at the end of September. Even before that, the law authorizing aviation ticket taxes to pay for airport construction expires on September 16.
â€śRight away, over 4,000 workers would be furloughed without pay,â€ť Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday. â€śIf itâ€™s delayed for just 10 days, we will lose nearly $1 billion in highway funding that we can never get back. And if we wait even longer, almost 1 million workers could be in danger of losing their jobs over the next year.â€ť
â€śThose are serious consequences, and the pain will be felt all across the country,â€ť he warned. â€śIn Virginia, 19,000 jobs are at risk. In Minnesota, more than 12,000. And in Florida, over 35,000 people could be out of work if Congress doesnâ€™t act.â€ť
Obamaâ€™s effort here comes as the nationâ€™s employment picture remains grim â€“ 9.1 percent unemployment and no net gain in jobs in August. It could be the deciding issue in next yearâ€™s presidential race, and how the public views his speech Thursday to a joint session of Congress may be crucial to his reelection bid.
But on funding for infrastructure projects, Obama has powerful allies.
On Friday, the bipartisan US Conference of Mayors issued â€śA Common Sense Jobs Agenda.â€ť
â€śIt is a matter of urgent necessity that Congress pass a clean extension of the current Transportation Bill â€“ without policy and funding changes â€“ and extend the gas tax to give Congress time to pass the larger reauthorization bill,â€ť mayors of the nationâ€™s largest cities wrote. â€śIf such an extension is not signed by the President by September 30, the entire program will be suspended â€“ causing the loss of 1.8 million jobs and doing irreparable harm to our economy. In this scenario, the Highway Trust Fund will lose $100 million dollars each day and the Trust Fund would completely run out of money early next year.â€ť
The impact of tropical storm Irene â€“ hundreds of roads and bridges wiped out â€“ gives added urgency to the issue.
For their part, Republican leaders say theyâ€™re for infrastructure funding too, although as usual the devil is in the details. And GOP leaders certainly donâ€™t agree with Obamaâ€™s implication that â€śpolitical gamesmanshipâ€ť on the part of Republican-led House members means the country could â€śrisk losing hundreds of thousands of jobs,â€ť as he said Saturday.
â€śIn the interest of getting Americans back to work and moving vital transportation legislation, Republicans are committed to working with the President and Congressional Democrats,â€ť Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R) of Florida said in a statement this week. â€śDuring their control, they neglected aviation legislation for more than four years and left major transportation legislation in the ditch for more than a year.â€ť
In the GOPâ€™s radio address Saturday, Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia stressed two things he said are needed to stimulate job growth: â€śeliminating burdensome mandates and regulationsâ€ť and passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment.
â€śThis Labor Day, Americaâ€™s workers are right to ask where the jobs are,â€ť he said. â€śThe policies coming out of Washington arenâ€™t getting it done. By focusing on removing barriers to job creation â€“ and creating barriers to debt creation â€“ we can get our economy back on track.â€ť