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One Million Jobs or Two Million Layoffs? It’s Decision Day on Transportation Bill

There are reports that Congress is at last about to reach a deal on a transportation bill, exactly 1,001 days after the expiration of the last transportation reauthorization bill that Congress passed.

There are reports that Congress is at last about to reach a deal on a transportation bill, exactly 1,001 days after the expiration of the last transportation reauthorization bill that Congress passed. What’s still unclear is what kind of deal this will be.

The right deal would create 1 million jobs desperately needed by the construction and other blue-collar workers disproportionately hit by our long-running jobs crisis. But if House Republicans continue to play their role as economic and political saboteur, the country could instead be hit with the layoffs of 2 million workers.

That’s why this morning you should send a message to your member of Congress and tell them to get behind the Senate transportation jobs bill.

That bill, which gets a thumbs up from, would provide funding for transportation projects for the next two years, giving states the certainty they need to take on the road and mass transit projects that will not only put people to work but enable a growing economy to move people and goods more efficiently.

It also maintains or improves policies that have worked for communities for decades but are under siege by congressional conservatives, such as procedures that allow transportation projects to be properly vetted for their environmental impact before construction begins or allowances for states to use federal funding for pedestrian or bicycle safety.

Congress only has until Sunday to act. On July 1, the latest in a series of stopgap authorizations to keep transportation projects going would expire. Authority to collect the federal gasoline tax revenues used to pay for surface transportation projects would end. States unable or unwilling to use their own funds to fill in the gap would have to abandon construction and maintenance projects, forcing an estimated 2 million layoffs.

In a usually sharply divided Senate, the Senate transportation bill passed with remarkable bipartisan support in March. The holdup has been House Republicans, who have held this legislation, and the 1 million new jobs it would create, hostage to demands from Big Oil, Big Coal and Tea Party extremists.

Specifically, the House has sought to impose fast-track approval of the Keystone XL pipeline as a condition for passage. The State Department estimates that Keystone would at most create 6,000 jobs during construction, and the pipeline would mainly be a conduit for Canadian oil to be exported overseas. House Republicans also have moved to block federal regulation of the disposal of highly toxic coal waste from power plants, in order to protect the profit margins of utility companies. And they have pushed rules that would make it more difficult for concerned citizens to block or change a road project that would do environmental harm to their community.

Holding up to 3 million good jobs hostage so that big corporations can evade environmental costs and export oil overseas more quickly. Where have we seen that story before?

Tuesday marked the unhappy convergence of two landmarks. It was the 56th anniversary of the passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which started the creation of today’s federal interstate highway network. While not all of its effects were good, there’s no dispute that this federal investment dramatically energized the American economy.

Tuesday was also the 1,000th day since a surface transportation authorization bill that had been signed by President Bush in 2005 expired. Transportation spending has since hobbled along on a series of short-term extensions, with a longer-term bill hobbled by conservative obstruction, which intensified in 2010 when Republicans took control of the House.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, managed to overcome that obstruction in the Senate, going mano à mano with one of the Senate’s most conservative and anti-environmental members, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. The Senate bill, at $109 billion over two years, is a drop in the bucket compared to our road, rail and public transportation needs, which have been underfunded for decades. But we can’t afford to throw away one million new jobs, let alone put two million more people out of work.

And it is unconscionable for House Republicans to continue the extortion game that it is playing on behalf of its corporate benefactors, including polluters who do not want to be held accountable for the environmental damage and health hazards they create.

It’s time to tell House Republicans to stop sabotaging the economy for working people. It’s time to let them know they will pay a political price if their political gamesmanship recklessly kills bipartisan legislation that would create jobs and improve our transportation network.

The next few hours could determine whether we end up with a jobs disaster. We have no time to lose. We need the House to feel the heat so it will finally move. Send this message now and be heard: 1 million new jobs, not 2 million layoffs.

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