WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are pushing for a second economic stimulus bill, and transportation advocates hope it will contain funding for infrastructure without further delaying a multi-year surface transportation reauthorization bill.
The so-called jobs bill would follow the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to spur employment amidst stubborn jobless numbers.
Senate Environment and Public Works chairman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and ranking Republican James Inhofe, R-Okla., yesterday introduced a bill reauthorizing the Economic Development Administration at $500 million per year through 2013, to fund development grants in economically distressed communities.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., “will be working with his [Democratic] caucus and the administration to put together such a package in the coming weeks so we can turn to it as soon as possible after completing health care,” said Regan Lachapelle, deputy communications director for Reid. “Although we believe passing health care will help our economy over the long haul, we feel we need to do something that will provide a more immediate boost.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said yesterday during a briefing with reporters that he intends to bring such a bill to the floor of the House by Dec. 18.
The White House has announced plans for a job-creation and economic growth forum on Dec. 3, which will include financial experts and members of the business community. White House officials have not said whether the transportation sector will be involved. However, President Obama said the administration will consider “all good ideas to encourage and accelerate job creation in this country.”
The six-year reauthorization package proposed by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., has been pitched as a job-creation or stimulus measure by many transportation advocates.
Oberstar “doesn’t want any talk of the [second stimulus bill] to obstruct any progress on a six-year bill” to reauthorize transportation spending and revamp various federal transportation programs, said committee spokesman Jim Berard. But, he added, “if we could get the six-year bill and a stimulus, it would be like Christmas.”
The nearly $800 billion ARRA enacted in February originally started as a bill with about 50% of economic recovery funds directed toward highway, bridge, and other infrastructure projects that are under the jurisdiction of Oberstar’s committee. But those funds were whittled down to a small percentage in the final bill, Berard noted yesterday.
One congressional leader, Rep. John B. Larson, D-Conn., who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said earlier this month that infrastructure jobs would be vital to economic recovery.
“We desperately need a transportation plan that provides a vision for the future of American infrastructure and puts the American people back to work realizing that vision,” he said. He suggested that such investments should be paid for with a “small transaction tax” on stocks and derivatives and Troubled Asset Relief Program funds that are returned by banks.
A short-term extension of federal funding — including for transportation — expires in mid-December and must be renewed or replaced. The adjournment dates for Congress have been pushed back gradually as health care legislation drags on. Hoyer said last week that the House would be in session through mid-December and potentially through Dec. 22.