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.

By , Staff writer

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    President Obama speaks August 31 during a Rose Garden event urging Congress to pass an extension of the Surface Transportation Bill. From left are: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, US Chamber of Commerce Chief Operating Officer David Chavern and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
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In a run-up to his much-anticipated jobs speech next Thursday, President Obama is banging the drum for legislation that would save thousands – perhaps millions – of jobs around the country right now.

It’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 bill’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.

“Right away, over 4,000 workers would be furloughed without pay,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday. “If it’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.”

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“Those are serious consequences, and the pain will be felt all across the country,” he warned. “In 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 doesn’t act.”

Obama’s effort here comes as the nation’s employment picture remains grim – 9.1 percent unemployment and no net gain in jobs in August. It could be the deciding issue in next year’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.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Thomas Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce – hardly political bedfellows – both are urging Congress to continue infrastructure funding.

On Friday, the bipartisan US Conference of Mayors issued “A Common Sense Jobs Agenda.”

“It is a matter of urgent necessity that Congress pass a clean extension of the current Transportation Bill – without policy and funding changes – and extend the gas tax to give Congress time to pass the larger reauthorization bill,” mayors of the nation’s largest cities wrote. “If such an extension is not signed by the President by September 30, the entire program will be suspended – 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.”

The impact of tropical storm Irene – hundreds of roads and bridges wiped out – gives added urgency to the issue.

For their part, Republican leaders say they’re for infrastructure funding too, although as usual the devil is in the details. And GOP leaders certainly don’t agree with Obama’s implication that “political gamesmanship” on the part of Republican-led House members means the country could “risk losing hundreds of thousands of jobs,” as he said Saturday.

“In the interest of getting Americans back to work and moving vital transportation legislation, Republicans are committed to working with the President and Congressional Democrats,” Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R) of Florida said in a statement this week. “During their control, they neglected aviation legislation for more than four years and left major transportation legislation in the ditch for more than a year.”

In the GOP’s radio address Saturday, Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia stressed two things he said are needed to stimulate job growth: “eliminating burdensome mandates and regulations” and passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment.

“This Labor Day, America’s workers are right to ask where the jobs are,” he said. “The policies coming out of Washington aren’t getting it done. By focusing on removing barriers to job creation – and creating barriers to debt creation – we can get our economy back on track.”

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