President Obama renewed his call for Congress to quickly approve a new transportation infrastructure investment program next month, and extend a payroll tax cut and jobless benefits to bolster the ailing economic recovery.
He made the comments as the stock market was plunging in the first U.S. trading session after the S&P rating agency downgraded U.S. debt. Obama blamed Republican threats to perhaps allow a U.S. debt default for having “roiled the markets . . . and slowed the pace of recovery.” That threat was averted by last week’s debt accord with Congress.
However, Obama also said U.S. debt problems are “emminently solvable,” through a combination of tax reform and “modest adjustments” to medical entitlement programs, which he said were not radical steps.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average had fallen more than 400 points on Monday before the president began his remarks. That followed a 513-point plunge on Aug. 4 and a number of declines in the past two weeks.
Obama said the most pressing issue to most Americans and to the markets is that of jobs and the slow economy. He repeated his plan to ask Congress on its return from August recess to quickly extend this year’s Social Security payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance benefits. Without those measures, he said, there would be 1 million fewer jobs.
“We should also help companies that want to repair our roads and bridges and airports,” Obama said, his latest reference to approving an infrastructure bank that has been proposed in Congress to issue loans and grants to generate more construction projects. That would be on top of any renewal of current transportation programs.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters the Senate will take up a surface transportation bill in September. Current spending authority for programs paid out of the Highway Trust Fund expires Sept. 30 unless it is extended or a new bill is passed, and the fund’s fuel tax collections could expire at the same time.
While the main transport legislation taking shape in the Senate does not contain the infrastructure bank, other lawmakers have said they could combine those measures. The House measure now being drafted is not expected to contain an I-Bank.
Obama last week has also listed passage of three pending bilateral free trade agreements as steps Congress could immediately take that would help the economy.
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