President Obama, flanked by business and labor executives urged Congress to extend the highway funding bill when they return from vacation. Unless extended, it will expire September 30th costing the U.S. $100 million a month in lost taxes. The President said that will result in the immediate lay off 4,000 workers. He does not want this to end up like the FAA bill, or go down to the wire like the debt ceiling and the continuing budget resolutions did.
It is seldom that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO , and Obama all three agree on any issue. Clearly the AFL-CIO has skin in the game because many of the workers that would lose their jobs are union members. The Chamber joined the effort because transportation infrastructure is a very important ingredient for business expansion and many Chamber members would be hurt by a shut down.
Obama was joined by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and David Chavern, chief operating officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They warned of dire consequences for American workers if Congress plays games with this bill. “For construction workers and their families across the country, it represents the difference between making ends meet or not making ends meet,” Obama said.
The president added that in addition to those furloughed immediately, a significant delay could lead to 1 million workers losing their jobs over the next year. “All of them will be out of a job just because of politics in Washington,” Obama said. “That’s just not acceptable. It’s inexcusable.”
This battle is reminiscent of the recent shutdown of the FAA
The authorization for the government to continue to collect the 18.4 cent gas tax and disburse the funds to the states to finance highway construction expires Sept. 30th. As with the FAA funding issue, instead of an automatic extension as was done in the past, Republicans, particularly in the House, want to use the issue for leverage to blackmail Democrats and the President to get some of their social agenda passed.
In this case, the some Republicans want to hang their anti-union amendments on the bill like they did on the FAA. Others, egged on by lobbyist Grover Norquist, want to eliminate the gas tax and federal funding of highways entirely. And still others just want to cut highway funding in order to use the money on other things. The House Transportation Committee Chairman, John Mica, is in that category.
House and Senate have different extension bills
The Senate bill sponsored by Senator Boxer (D-CA) would give a two year extension and spend $109 billion on highways. The GOP bill in the House sponsored by Rep. John Mica (R-FL) would give a six year extension and spend $230 billion, which represents a major cut in highway construction from current levels. Most experts including the U.S. Chamber feel current levels of construction are too low. A cut would be disastrous.
The President did not tell Congress specifically how to extend the bill, he just urged them to extend it now rather than wait until it expires. The next move will be up to Congress.
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