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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 / September 3, 2011

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.

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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.”

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