Speaking from the Rose Garden Wednesday morning, President Obama challenged Congress upon its return to Washington next week to immediately pass a clean extension of the Surface Transportation bill, which provides funding for highway construction, bridge repair, mass transit systems and other infrastructure projects. The bill expires at the end of September. Failure to do so, he warned, could put an additional one million people out of work.
“If we allow the transportation bill to expire, over 4,000 workers will be immediately furloughed without pay. If it’s delayed for just ten days, it will lose nearly $1 billion in highway funding. That’s money we can never get back,” Obama said. “And if it’s delayed even longer, almost one million workers could lose their jobs over the course of the next year.”
The president also said that allowing the bill to expire would be both unacceptable and inexcusable, particularly since the construction industry has been one of the hardest hit in the past decade. In addition, he urged Congress to pass a clean extension of the Federal Aviation Agency bill, which expires on Sept. 16. Because of congressional infighting, thousands of aviation workers were nearly laid off and are owed back pay.
“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,” said Obama. “This should not be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue.”
In a Tuesday interview on the “Tom Joyner Morning Show,” Obama said he has not yet found any “magic bullets” to get Americans, and African-Americans in particular, working again, likening the nation’s fragile economy to a heart attack victim.
“This is a situation where the economy essentially had a heart attack, and the patient lived, and the patient is getting better, but it’s getting better very slowly,” he said, adding that infrastructure projects could create up to a million jobs, which he reiterated in his Rose Garden remarks.
Under no illusion that the White House and Congressional Republicans will have a miraculous meeting of the minds next week, Obama said that both he and the American public will need to pressure Congress to take action on job creation measures.
“My attitude is that my job is to present the best plans possible. Congress needs to act. If Congress does not act, then I’m going to be going on the road and talking to folks, and this next election very well may end up being a referendum on whose vision of America is better,” said Obama.
Obama, who was scheduled to deliver a speech at the formal dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial before it was postponed because of Hurricane Irene, said that the memorial is a reminder of what’s possible in this country, although there is clearly a lot more work to do.
“Dr. King helped to catalyze, along with that entire generation of heroes, the progress that allowed me to be sitting in this Oval Office right now,” he said. “But I think it’s always important to remember that when Dr. King gave the “I Have a Dream” speech, that was a march for jobs and justice, not just justice.”
(Photo: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)