...passed in December, which includes $47 billion for highways, transit and other public works. But progress has been slow in the Senate, where Democrats have been working on their proposal for weeks. One relief for construction interests is that the Obama freeze wouldn’t apply to programs funded by ARRA or a follow-on jobs bill.
Jobs Bill on Tap
Starting well before the Jan. 19 election, there have been differing views on how to pay for the jobs bill. Pam Whitted, National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association vice president for government affairs, says Democrats prefer drawing on funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)—the approach taken in the House-passed bill. But some Republicans oppose using TARP money and instead want to tap unspent ARRA funds.
One industry source, who prefers anonymity, gives the jobs bill a good chance of approval after Brown’s election. “I think it’s going to go,” he says. His reason: Both parties agree Massachusetts voters’ made clear that economic security is their top concern. Says the source, “If Congress misses that message, I think they’re missing the boat totally. I think they’ll pay in November—all incumbents.”
If Democrats can find a way to pass a new jobs package, the industry source says, its added infrastructure funding would be a “safety valve” for appropriators “to allow those [FY 2011] programs’ numbers to come in lower than what otherwise would be politically necessary.”
Brown’s victory has had the most immediate impact on health care. The day after the election, ABC News aired an interview with Obama in which he indicated that he is open to compromises on a health-care measure, a vital issue to his administration. Obama said, “I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on.”
Health Care on Life Support
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, “No decisions have been made” on how to proceed on health care. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), when asked whether the current version of health-care legislation was dead, replied, “I sure hope so.” Construction industry sources say they see little chance the two very different bills that passed the House and Senate will advance.
In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters on Jan. 21 the Senate-approved bill in its current form “does not have the votes” to be approved in the House. But she added there is “a recognition that there is a foundation of a bill” in the Senate measure.
House Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said, “Our goal is to stop this monstrosity.” He says lawmakers need to “scrap” the current version “and start over and work on the bill in a bipartisan way.”
As lawmakers debate and negotiate these and other bills, they face a tight schedule. With Election Day looming on Nov. 2, the congressional session probably won’t stretch past early October. Some controversial measures won’t be finished; one of those may be climate change.
Moreover, the desire to be re-elected will color how many lawmakers approach pending bills. David Bauer, American Road & Transportation Builders Association senior vice president for government affairs, thinks both parties have a decision to make, saying, “Are we just going to spend the next 10 months trying to produce political ads, or are [we] going to actually try to deliver some results?”