- The Washington Times
Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A day after enlisting veterans to help him fight congressional Republicans for a second economic stimulus plan, President Obama joined forces with big labor and big business Wednesday to pressure lawmakers for more spending on federal construction projects.

“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,” Mr. Obama said at an event in the White House Rose Garden. “This should not be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue.”

The president urged lawmakers, who will return to Washington next week, to renew a “clean” transportation spending bill - meaning one that would be unencumbered by conditions such as offsetting cuts elsewhere in the deficit-laden federal budget. The current transportation funding law expires Sept. 30.

Mr. Obama also called on Congress to break a partisan impasse over a reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration; a stopgap measure approved in early August is set to expire Sept. 16.

To demonstrate support for the measures, the White House had AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka and David C. Chavern, chief operating officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, standing at the president’s side as he spoke, along with four construction workers.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick also attended with about 125 representatives from labor, business and advocacy groups. Scattered among them in the Rose Garden were at least a dozen empty chairs.

The Republican-led House and the Democratic-controlled Senate have not agreed on a new highway bill. The House is considering a bill that would cost $230 billion over six years and would be paid entirely with current fuel taxes. The Senate version would cost $109 billion over two years.

A spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said the House version is more responsible because it spends only existing revenue without raising the federal gas tax. Brendan Buck said the president´s sense of urgency was misplaced.

“Aside from the president today, no one has suggested the highway bill will be allowed to expire,” Mr. Buck said. “These types of scare tactics are irresponsible, transparently political, and needlessly add uncertainty to our economy. Republicans support an extension of the highway bill and appreciate the need for a long-term solution for infrastructure projects.”

Mr. Obama’s focus on construction projects comes as he prepares to deliver a major speech next Wednesday to a joint session of Congress on how to create more jobs.

On Tuesday, the president urged the American Legion’s annual convention to pressure Congress to approve his agenda so unemployed veterans would be able to find work.

Some experts on fiscal policy say Mr. Obama appears to be headed toward a package that could add $250 billion to $300 billion to next year’s federal deficit, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected at $973 billion.

John Makin, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute and a former consultant to the Treasury Department, said Mr. Obama’s expected mix of payroll tax cuts, extended unemployment benefits and construction spending has little chance of passing Congress.

“This is going to be too much of a shock for the Congress to absorb,” Mr. Makin said.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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