President Obama Wednesday, eager to prevent another political showdown over expiring legislation, called on Congress to quickly renew the surface transportation law that expires at the end of September.
The president also repeated a refrain that transportation projects should be considered an economic priority to create jobs. He said the House and Senate should get to work immediately on extending both the surface transportation law, known as SAFETEA-LU, which has been extended 20 times already.
Congress must also extend the Federal Aviation Administration’s spending authorization or put more jobs at risk in the hard-hit construction industry, he said.
“If we allow the transportation bill to expire, over 4,000 workers will be furloughed without pay,” Obama said. “If it’s delayed for merely 10 days, we will lose almost $1 billion in highway funds. That’s money we can never get back.”
Federal money for state transportation projects that are funded with bonds could also be in jeopardy if the bill expires. A few days lapse wouldn’t matter, according to Jack Basso of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. But a drawn-out delay could have serious consequences for grant anticipation revenue vehicle bonds, or Garvees, he said.
“States have a lot of that money out there and if they’re unable to get access to the money to pay for those bonds it puts them in a real financial bind,” Basso said Wednesday.
Obama appeared in the Rose Garden flanked by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, AFL-CIO head Rich Trumka and U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief operating officer David Chavern. In a blog update Wednesday, LaHood said of the others that “the folks who have to deal with the result of legislative inaction agree” that failing to pass extensions now “will be extraordinarily painful for all Americans.”
The White House is emphasizing the potential economic pain by presenting the transportation crisis as a jobs issue in the current political climate. The president also Wednesday asked congressional leaders to convene a joint session next Wednesday night so he can “lay out a series of bipartisan proposals that the Congress can take immediately to continue to rebuild the American economy,” the White House said.
The president said he is also directing the Transportation Department and some other agencies to identify “high-priority infrastructure projects that can put people back to work.” The White House did not offer a list of potential projects, but Obama characterized them as projects that are already funded and for which the administration could expedite permitting decisions and reviews.
Basso and Chamber of Commerce transportation infrastructure director Janet Kavinoky said they expect Congress to pass both surface transportation and FAA extensions. Obama tied the highway bill to the FAA, trying to avoid the political imbroglio in August that saw the agency partially shutdown for nearly two weeks. The president is asking for a “clean” extension of both measures, meaning one without any policy changes added to it.
The FAA stalemate was over limits to rural airport aid added to the extension by House Republicans. Kavinoky says now is not the time for a replay.
“The time to address policy programs is in the full reauthorization. When you’ve got jobs on the line, playing politics doesn’t make sense,” she said.
In the Senate, Environment and Public Works committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., intends to get a four-month surface transportation extension through her committee next week.
In the House, Transportation Committee chairman John Mica, R-Fla., said he will support one more short-term extension.