WASHINGTON Jan 21 The Obama administration,
key lawmakers and big trade groups want to include billions of
dollars for transportation and infrastructure in pending
legislation aimed at easing stubbornly high U.S. unemployment.
The move reflects cold calculations about what initiatives
will take priority amid joblessness that is near a 26-year high
at 10 percent and rapidly shifting political sands in
Washington ahead of next November's congressional elections.
With prospects for passing stand-alone legislation for
long-term funding of highway and transit projects unlikely in
2010, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood pushed an alternative
at a meeting with U.S. mayors on Thursday.
LaHood said he is asking the Senate to broadly expand a
$1.5 billion program included in last year's economic stimulus
package that allows state and local governments to use money
for a wide spectrum of projects.
The grants, known as TIGER, for Transportation Investment
Generating Economic Recovery, comprised a sliver of
transportation money included in the stimulus but officials
note that interest has been strong with local communities
scrambling for infrastructure funds.
Lahood told the mayors that this "discretionary money
allows all of you to have direct access to money to do
innovative, creative things in your community."
Separately, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell planned to
push top White House economic advisers on Thursday to embrace
the creation of a national infrastructure bank, an independent
institution that would finance capital works projects.
Rendell told Reuters in an interview that a coalition of
supporters that include transportation trade associations are
pushing for the bank proposal to be included in the legislative
They believe a well capitalized program would streamline
infrastructure funding and financing, attract private
investment, simulate broad sectors of the economy and create
"We want to get the bank up and running," Rendell said,
noting strong interest from investment banks and hedge funds in
partnering with the government on infrastructure upgrades. "We
don't want to lose time on this."
Obama proposed an infrastructure bank nearly a year ago
with an initial $5 billion in his budget proposal. But the U.S.
Congress refused to grant money and the Senate has been slow to
weigh legislation introduced by Banking Committee Chairman
Christopher Dodd to set it up.
Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who has said he will not seek
reelection next fall, plans to hold a hearing on the plan.
Obama, however, is likely to broach the idea in a
closed-door meeting with the mayors on Thursday.
The House of Representatives in December passed a $155
billion jobs package which, like the 2009 economic stimulus
plan, is intended to save and create jobs through direct
federal spending and financing.
The bill would provide $48.3 billion for construction
projects, including highways, transit and sewer and water
upgrades. Another $4 billion would go to school repairs and $2
billion to fix up public and rental housing units.
The Democratic-led proposal in the Senate is due to be
unveiled in coming weeks and is likely to differ substantially
from the House version.
(Editing by Leslie Adler)