If I could send a package to the American people, here is what I’d put inside: a long-term plan to fund our nation’s transportation system, creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs, wrapped by a Congress that sees the common sense solutions that already exist to boost our economy.The alternative course some are pursuing, however, is an austerity plan that features reckless cuts to vital transportation programs. This “gift” that will unfortunately keep on giving is the real threat of sequestration, which is becoming more likely with congressional inaction.
For our transportation sector 2013 is a year of opportunities. We need to transition from the patchwork of recent short-term funding bills to long-term investments in public transportation and highways. These investments – that is, if they’re actually funded with long-term commitments – will end damaging cuts to transit services and jobs and reverse the severe commuter and freight bottlenecks that are strangling our economy. We must reject austerity measures that will derail progress on a next generation (NextGen) air traffic control system. We need to fund the President’s long-term vision that recognizes Amtrak as a centerpiece of the national rail system and emerging high-speed rail networks. And it is about time we arm our ports with the resources they need to remain competitive and handle next generation mega container ships. These investments will put millions to work and retool our economy with the transportation system Americans and our businesses need to complete in the global economy.
The economic numbers show the economy is on the right track. Private sector payroll increased by 166,000 in January and our economy has added private sector jobs for 35 straight months – a total of 6.1 million jobs. Home prices are starting to climb back, and consumer spending is on more solid footing.
But unemployment continues its stubborn drag on our economy. Over the past year the jobless rate has fallen by 0.4 percent, but January’s rate ticked up again, from 7.8 percent to 7.9 percent. Memo to austerity boosters: We won’t move the jobless rate down by cutting billions from job-creating investments. Just ask hundreds of U.S. economists.
It is this jobs crisis – not any fiscal cliff or fake deficit crisis – that is holding back a recovery of the middle class. We can’t solve it by letting extremists cut public healthcare and retirement programs, or impose “austerity” measures while coddling the wealthiest 2 percent. Not only is that approach unfair to hardworking Americans, and wildly unpopular, but austerity simply isn’t effective as a cure for a still weakened economy. Just ask the working people in Europe how this austerity thing is working for them.
President Obama has been striving to enact a balanced approach of prudent deficit reduction and strategic investments that can promote economic growth, fuel job creation, rebuild our failing infrastructure and strengthen the middle class. His next chance to deliver that message to millions of Americans is tomorrow night during the State of the Union address. Earlier in the day, thousands of workers will march on Capitol Hill to send the message #JobsNotCuts.
Let’s help him deliver this promise, this gift for our future, to the American people.
Jobs, not cuts.