With unemployment stubbornly high, interest seems to be building in Congress for measures aimed at producing more jobs. Proposals in the mix may include extending American Recovery and Reinvestment Act tax and benefit provisions that are to expire soon. There also is a rumor that additional highway spending is under consideration.
Worries about the nation’s jobless rate are driving the discussion, observers agree. The national unemployment rate edged up in September to 9.8%, from 9.7% in August. Construction’s rate remained much worse, climbing to 17.1%, from 16.5%. “The administration is very concerned about the jobs numbers,” says Jay Hansen, National Asphalt Pavement Association vice president for government affairs.
Jeffrey Shoaf, Associated General Contractors’ senior executive director for government affairs, says when lawmakers visit their districts, constituents remind them, “The problems are jobs, jobs, jobs....They want something done to create jobs.”
With that as a backdrop, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met with President Obama on Oct. 7 to discuss ways of promoting more jobs. “There are some initiatives that we must do,” such as extending emergency unemployment benefits, now set to expire Dec. 31, Pelosi said. Reid said ARRA’s $8,000 credit for first-time home buyers, slated to lapse on Dec. 1, also should be extended. Pelosi added that one question about extending the housing credit is whether it still should be limited to first-time buyers. “Or would you open it up to other purchasers of homes?” she said.
Another idea that has “some currency” is continuing ARRA’s provision that lets companies use current operating losses to offset profits going back five years, thus boosting income, she said. AGC and the American Institute of Architects have released multipronged proposals to help the industry, including some of the items under discussion on Capitol Hill.
Also sparking interest in construction circles is a rumor that the Obama administration is looking at increased transportation funding as a jobs producer. The White House appears to be putting together a long-term proposal for more transportation money, says NAPA’s Hansen. The White House and Transportation Dept. did not return requests for comment. The current surface-transportation authorization expires Oct. 31. The length of a new extension is unclear.
Another Washington source says, “There seems to be a pretty good debate going on whether the transportation bill is the right vehicle.” The source cautions that the situation is “very fluid, very undecided” and quite a ways from any oneactually floating something.