President Obama warned this week that thousands of construction workers involved with US transport projects will be out of work if “political gamesmanship” prevents Congress from extending two crucial bills this month.
Over 4,000 workers will be immediately furloughed without pay if Congress allows the Transportation Bill to expire at the end of September, because that bill provides funding for highway construction, bridge repair, mass transit systems and other essential projects, he said. “If it’s delayed for just 10 days, it will lose nearly $1bn (£617M) in highway funding — that’s money we can never get back,” Obama said. “And if it’s delayed even longer, almost 1M workers could lose their jobs over the course of the next year.”
He also urged Congress to act on a second bill, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorisation, which allows funding to be granted to airport projects. Congress previously failed to pass an extension of the bill, which expired on July 22, forcing the FAA to issue Stop Work Orders to 258 projects. The FAA estimated that around 4,000 workers would have been furloughed without pay as a result.
Congress eventually granted a short-term extension to the FAA bill until 16 September, but Obama this week told Congress to “pass a clean extension of that FAA bill — for longer this time — and address back pay for the workers who were laid off during the last shutdown”. Congress has previously extended the FAA’s authorisation 20 separate times without controversy, and the Transportation Bill has been renewed seven times in the past two years alone. Obama blamed the unusual delays on “political gamesmanship”.
Obama also this week said he would ask the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Interior and Transportation to each select up to three high-priority infrastructure projects for special expedition. The government will then speed up permit decisions, reviews, and consultations for these projects, ensuring those steps are completed within 18 months so that construction can begin more quickly.