WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is calling on Congress to pass a transportation bill to ensure funding for roads and construction jobs, arguing that failure to do so would spell economic disaster.
Republicans say they support passing the bill, but Obama says time is running out and "political posturing" may stand in the way.
"There's no reason to put more jobs at risk in an industry that has been one of the hardest-hit in this recession," Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address. "There's no reason to cut off funding for transportation projects at a time when so many of our roads are congested, so many of our bridges are in need of repair and so many businesses are feeling the cost of delays.
"This isn't a Democratic or a Republican issue -- it's an American issue," the president said.
Obama issued his call as he prepares to make a major jobs speech to a joint session of Congress on Thursday in which he's expected to push for bipartisan action on tax credits and infrastructure spending to get the economy out of its doldrums. A new jobs report just found the economy stopped adding jobs in August and unemployment stood at 9.1 percent.
Federal highway programs, and the fuel taxes that pay for them, will expire Sept. 30 unless Congress acts, and funds for construction projects across the country would be held up. That follows the partial shutdown this summer of the Federal Aviation Administration over a showdown between the House and Senate that led to thousands of layoffs of workers on airport construction and other projects.
Transportation experts say the impact of an expiration of highway programs would be even more devastating for the economy. Transportation programs tend to have wide bipartisan support, but given the focus of the House Republican majority on cutting the budget, the legislation could run into disputes over how much to spend on it.
Republicans used their weekly address to push for passage of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and attack Obama over his approach to job creation. Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte complained that the administration has spent too much money on stimulus initiatives that didn't work while piling on burdensome regulations.
"While our workers are being held back by Washington, there's nothing in place to stop the federal government from bankrolling further big government spending -- the kind that leads to government expansion into private-sector jobs, burdensome mandates on job creators and skyrocketing national debt," Goodlatte said.
The debt legislation passed last month requires both the House and Senate to vote on a balanced-budget amendment, and Goodlatte said Obama should use his upcoming jobs speech to join the call for the measure.
But the administration and most Democrats oppose the approach as unnecessary and political, arguing Congress should be able to control the budget without amending the Constitution. Passage is unlikely anyway since it requires two-thirds approval of both houses of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the states.