Now that President Obama's $447 billion American Jobs Act has crashed and burned after failing to win the support of Senate Republicans and a number of fellow Democrats, the backup plan by the president and Democrats on the Hill is to reintroduce the act piecemeal.
Another initiative from the White House that has come to light recently is to expedite approvals on major infrastructure projects across the country to generate jobs in the near term.
Senate Democrats have introduced an aid package geared toward saving or creating jobs for police officers, firefighters, and teachers. The package is estimated to cost $35 billion. Not to be outdone, Senate Republicans have introduced a series of measures geared toward creating jobs, including a repeal of the Obama healthcare laws, an expansion of offshore drilling, a balanced budget amendment, and a moratorium on new regulations. Not one of President Obama's proposals is part of the GOP jobs plan.
Based on the rhetoric coming out of Washington from both sides of the aisle, the ideological divide on fixing the economy is too deep to allow for compromise on most of the respective proposals. The Democrats' plan to save/create jobs appears dead on arrival, according to some political pundits. The GOP plan will likely get only marginal support from Democrats.
The one component of the Obama bill that holds promise of enticing some Republicans focuses on infrastructure spending. When reintroduced, a stimulus centered on highway and bridge construction could compel some from the GOP to defect. The reason is simple. Infrastructure spending would create jobs in an industry suffering from high unemployment in most sections of the country.
In addition, the funding would provide tangible projects that politicians could present to their constituents as examples of job creators. The teacher aid package, though meritorious, does not give pols the ability to show voters exactly how their tax dollars were spent or how the stimulus provided benefits in their hometowns. By contrast, politicians who support infrastructure projects can legitimately point to a new bridge or sewage treatment plant and say, "Thanks to my vote on the stimulus, this new facility, which created x number of jobs, was constructed."
During his weekly radio address on October 14, Obama said he plans to introduce key facets of the American Jobs Act again, including provisions aimed at "putting construction workers back on the job, rebuilding our roads and bridges; providing tax cuts for small businesses that hire our veterans; making sure that middle-class families don't see a tax hike next year and that the unemployed and our out-of-work youth have a chance to get back in the workforce and earn their piece of the American Dream."
On the same day his American Jobs Act died in the Senate, Obama announced that he had selected 14 major infrastructure projects for expedited permitting and environmental approvals:
- The Tappan Zee Bridge in New York State.
- The Crenshaw/LAX light rail project in Los Angeles County.
- The Whittier Bridge in Massachusetts.
- The Provo Westside Connector highway project in Utah.
- The Baltimore Red rail transit line project in Maryland.
- The Next Generation Air Transportation System Infrastructure Project in Texas.
- The Navajo Gallup Water Supply Project in New Mexico.
- The Denver Mariposa Housing Project in Colorado.
- The City Market at "O" Street, a mixed-use project in the District of Columbia.
- The Arroyo Sequit Watershed and Qwuloolt Estuary Coastal Habitat Restoration Project in California.
- The West Coast Coastal Habitat Restoration Project in California and Washington.
- The Cleghorn Ridge Wind Project in California.
- The Deerfield Wind Power Project in Vermont.
- The Dakota Prairie and Little Missouri National Grasslands in North and South Dakota.
The Tappan Zee Bridge project is one to watch over the coming weeks and months. The multibillion-dollar project has been under review for more than a decade under four governors (George Pataki, Eliot Spitzer, David Paterson, and now Andrew Cuomo) and was at least three years from the start of construction. Now, with the federal government in charge, the project could break ground as early as August 2012.
In a case of questionable timing, Governor Cuomo announced October 10 that he had issued a request for expedited approval of the project to the Obama administration. Less than 24 hours later, Obama announced that the project was one of the 14 selected under the program.
This project appears to be a priority for the Obama administration, because it will create an estimated 33,000 construction jobs and will coincidentally begin several months before the presidential election.
However, there are many questions surrounding this project. For one, absolutely no federal or state dollars have been committed to the project, which has been estimated to cost more than $5 billion, according to the Federal Highway Administration. The design being advanced by the federal government involves only the replacement of a bridge. At least initially, it does not involve any sought-after bus rapid transit or mass transit options, which had been reviewed before the federal takeover of the project. A bridge with bus rapid transit and commuter rail had been estimated to cost $16 billion.
According to the FHWA, state officials have said the majority of the funding for the project (about $3 billion) would come from bonds secured through toll revenue. Other funding sources include unspecified labor pension funds, as well as some federal transportation dollars.
The FHWA has scheduled "scoping" sessions this month in New York's suburban Westchester and Rockland counties to present further information on the designs being advanced and the potential funding sources.