Derek Quizon is a GOVERNING contributor.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday again urged Congress to pass the $50 billion infrastructure portion of his stalled jobs bill that he insisted would put more than a million construction workers back on the job and help repair a stagnant economy.
"We can't wait for Congress to do its job. If they won't act, I will," Obama said, of his push to accelerate infrastructure project funding.
The President spoke to construction workers, local government officials, and union leaders in front of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which connects Washington, D.C. with the suburbs of northern Virginia. The Potomac River bridge is one of 70 thousand such structures nationwide deemed structurally deficient in a report by Transportation for America, a group advocating more expansive government infrastructure projects.
The president's $447 billion infrastructure bill is part of a comprehensive jobs package the administration is pushing in the hopes of freeing up federal money for various projects.
The measure is scheduled for a Senate vote this week. If it passes, the Key Bridge could qualify for federal dollars that would go toward renovation, which would put more people back to work, Obama said -- particularly construction workers -- who have been hit hard during the recession.
"I'm joining many of these workers to say that it makes absolutely no sense, when there's so much work to be done, that they're not doing the work," he said. "Not when there are so many roads and bridges and runways ready to be repaired."
Republicans have been opposed to the overall jobs package, and they don't support using a 5.6 percent surcharge on incomes above $1 million to fund the separate infrastructure improvements package either.
Instead, they've focused their efforts on a separate discussion over the long-term highway and transit authorization that's being crafted in each chamber of Congress. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, touted a Republican transportation construction plan that would spend $285 billion over six years on Monday, according to the Associated Press. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. has pitched a two-year, $109 billion bill. Both would be partially funded by the gas tax and other transportation revenues, but there are questions about how the remainder would be paid for.
The president said his administration would work to speed up the process of disbursing loans and grants to local governments for infrastructure improvement projects. "If there's money coming out of the pipeline, we want to get it out faster," he said.
That was good news to Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who said he's hoping to use federal money to supplement a local jobs initiative program. Funding for new projects will give a lot of local organizations the money to hire new workers.
Gray told Governing the city has had positive experiences with federally-funded projects that have gone through an expedited review process, which helped those projects get off the ground. Earlier this month, a mixed-use development project called City Market at O Street was one of 14 projects nationwide put on an administrative fast track. Gray has been pleased with the results.
"We're seeing what can be done when the red tape is stripped [from a project]," he said.