The White House is getting an early jump on the House Republicans’ next potential hostage-taking event, and perhaps learning something in the process. In an event today, flanked by AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka, Chamber of Commerce COO David Chavern and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, President Obama will call for a clean extension of the Highway Trust Fund, which is set to expire at the end of September. Rather than cutting the surface transportation budget, rather than pre-compromising on a level of cuts, the President will demand a clean bill at present levels.
“The president will discuss the importance of moving forward with this extension to protect nearly a million American jobs and highlight the opportunity we have to work in a bipartisan way to further invest in rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure to strengthen our economy and create new jobs across the country,” the aide said.
It remains to be determined whether the president will also include the issue in his highly publicized speech on job creation, set for next week. Administration officials were mum on the matter when asked about it by The Huffington Post, choosing instead to speak in broad strokes about what the president will discuss.
But Democrats on and off the Hill say that the current spending levels must be maintained if the party is to be viewed as serious about jobs. Surface transportation spending is set to run out on September 30; if it is allowed to lapse, thousands of federal construction jobs would simply be lost.
The House and Senate are hundreds of billions apart on a new extension, with the House bill a 34% reduction from current funding levels. This translates to 630,000 jobs, according to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer. Neither chamber has so much as written legislation, so there will need to be an extension. The question is what level of spending and for how long. If nothing happens by the end of September, federal construction projects will be halted and the federal gas tax will not be able to be collected.
There have been seven clean extensions of the surface transportation authorization since September 2009, when the last bill expired.
More from The Hill. The innovation here is that the President is simply asking for a clean bill. Unlike the debt limit debate, where he agreed to the narrative of tying it to spending set forth by Republicans, he’s simply demanding that Congress do its job. So that’s something.
It helps that both business and labor are on the same side on this fight, each wanting an extension without delay.