After the storms of August – political, financial and most recently natural – things may seem to be getting back to normal. It won’t last.
Come September, and more precisely after Labor Day, the games begin anew and the fate of the economy may hang in the balance.
President Obama has already said he will offer a major economic rescue proposal once the end-of-summer Sept. 5 holiday is past and Congress is back. And again this week he signaled it will include transportation infrastructure programs. That focus gained more attention this week as Irene sank hundreds of roads on the East Coast.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor took no vacation from warning that his dominant GOP bloc will oppose new White House stimulus efforts, or even disaster funds that are not offset with more austerity elsewhere in the budget. An earthquake in his Virginia district did not shake his resolve.
Ben Bernanke said he, too, will wait until deep into the month before unveiling new Federal Reserve monetary support for this fragile recovery. The chairman has his own ‘take no action’ faction to contend with, and may hope a two-day Fed policy meeting late in September gives him more time to twist arms. It also allows Fed officials to first see what Obama, Cantor and others may do with fiscal policy.
From the sidelines, transportation industry officials are quite anxious that Washington policymakers may once again tangle, play chicken and manufacture a deadline crisis before federal funding expires Sept. 30. That could put future transport program spending by states in disarray for months to come, and disrupt thousands of construction projects that need to keep moving in this work season.
There are hopeful reports that Republican lawmakers, at least in the Senate, want to avoid another market-shaking political crisis next month, and will help to quickly pass a lot of funding bills. We’ll see.
But policy experts are far from reassured. They see months ahead of delays and brinksmanship before Congress can settle on either a new long-term surface transportation bill or even a medium-term program.
So, enjoy what’s left of the vacation period. Or say good riddance to a summer that brought anything but relaxation. Political leaders are crafting economic war games for when the summer is through, and the road ahead could be rough.