Thursday, November 19, 2009

Job Creation On The Agenda

Quick action to stimulate employment and halt rising unemployment will be the next agenda item before Congress adjourns for Christmas. Leaders in both houses are already pressing for a compromise six month extension of the federal Highway Trust Fund at current levels, so the relevant committees can begin work immediately on a permanent six year reauthorization bill. Senate forces wanted an 18 month extension, while House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar wants to finish the six year bill before Congress adjourns for the holidays. Senator Barbara Boxer, Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has already accepted the six month extension strategy, and says a full six year reauthorization measure is her committee’s next priority.

Chairman Peter DeFazio of the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee, says that rising unemployment makes “infrastructure a front burner issue.” While Republican politicians say unemployment rates above ten percent show failure of the earlier stimulus legislation, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer responds that Republicans consistently vote against economic growth bills. “Votes don’t lie. Republicans have consistently said ‘no’ to creating jobs and helping Americans during this recession,” Hoyer contends.

The renewed talk of job legislation is also bringing out lobbyists. The U. S. Conference of Mayors and the Associated General Contractors both press for transportation appropriations targeted at urban areas, where construction sector unemployment tops 18%. The Mayors are also encouraging votes in favor of increased block grants for energy efficiency and conservation, community development, and police services. Solar panel makers are lobbying for a new 30% tax credit for investments in equipment to make solar energy components, in addition to the grants already appropriated to support solar panel factory construction in California and wind turbine factory expansion in Idaho.

Proposals to fund all this job creation legislation include a new Wall Street financial transaction tax of 0.25% on stock trades, and 0.02% on commodity future trades. The annual expected revenue of $150 billion would go $75 billion for national debt reduction, $55 billion for miscellaneous job creation programs, and $20 billion for highway and other infrastructure construction. Retirement, education and health savings transactions would be exempted from the tax.

Another proposal being floated by Congressmen Barney Frank, Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer is to dip into the $317 billion in as yet unspent TARP funds for infrastructure construction, assistance to homeowners facing foreclosure, and loans to small businesses. Any other unspent TARP cash or money repaid by financial institutions which got federal assistance, would go toward paying off the national debt. Unless legislators act on such measures before it adjourns December 18, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is expected to notify Congress that he will extend the TARP program through October 2010.
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