President Obama urged Congress today to quickly pass legislation to continue funding transportation and infrastructure saying it would be “inexcusable” for lawmakers to put more American jobs at risk.
“At a time when a lot of people in Washington are talking about creating jobs, it’s time to stop the political gamesmanship that can actually cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. This should not be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue,” Obama said in the Rose Garden.
The president called on lawmakers to pass “clean extensions” of the Surface Transportation Bill, aka the “highway bill,” and the Federal Aviation Administration Re-authorization, claiming both measures are necessary to protect the economy and the American workforce.
According to the White House, there are a million jobs riding on the highway bill and over 4,000 workers will be furloughed immediately if it is allowed to expire.
“That’s just not acceptable,” Obama said. “It’s inexcusable to put more jobs at risk in an industry that’s already been one of the hardest hit over the last decade. It’s inexcusable to cut off necessary investments at a time when so many of our highways are choked with congestion, when so many of our bridges are in need of repair, when so many commuters depend on reliable public transit and when travel and shipping delays cost businesses billions of dollars every single year.”
Obama was joined at the event by AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka on one side and Chamber of Commerce COO David Chavern on the other. He described them as “two organizations that don’t always see eye to eye,” and said their support proved that Congress needs to pass the bills.
The president’s speech today was an offensive move by the White House to get ahead of lawmakers as Republicans in the House of Representatives and Democrats in the U.S. Senate have disagreements about the two bills. The transportation bill is set to expire at the end of September but the house and senate remain far apart on the legislation, which provides funding for highway construction, bridge repair, mass transit systems and revenue in the form of the federal gas tax. The House has proposed a 6-year, $235 billion bill, while the Senate wants a two-year $109 billion measure.
Because the differences between the two chambers are so great, Congress will likely need to pass a short-term extension to avoid a shut down at the end of next month. Democrats fear Republicans will try to attach extraneous riders, which is why the president called for a “clean extension.”
“Now’s the time for Congress to extend the transportation bill, keep our workers on the job. Now is the time to put our country before party and to give certainty to the people who are just trying to get by,” Obama said.
Shedding some light on his upcoming jobs announcement next week, Obama said that going forward “we’re going to have to have a serious conversation in this country about making real, lasting investments in our infrastructure, from better ports to a smarter electric grid, from high-speed Internet to high- speed rail. And at a time when interest rates are low and workers are unemployed, the best time to make those investments is right now, not once another levee fails or another bridge falls. Right now is when we need to be making these decisions.”
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner fired back today claiming the president’s remarks amounted to unnecessary fear-mongering. “Aside from the President today, no one has suggested the highway bill will be allowed to expire. These types of scare tactics are irresponsible, transparently political, and needlessly add uncertainty to our economy. Republicans support an extension of the highway bill and appreciate the need for a long-term solution for infrastructure projects,” Brendan Buck said in a written statement.
The president also called for Congress to pass a long-term extension of funding for the FAA. Earlier this summer, close to 4,000 federal employees were furloughed and tens of thousands of construction workers found themselves out a job when Congress broke for its summer recess before passing the routine extension. A short-term extension was ultimately passed, but it is set to expire September 16th.