Lost amid all of the hype about job creation and the Beltway obsession with the deficit-cutting super committee is the fate of hundreds of thousands of real jobs that hang in the balance pending five key policy decisions confronting Congress and the White House. Here's a look at what's at stake.
Highway Funding: The seventh temporary extension of funding for road, bridge, and mass-transit construction expires on Sept. 30 and so does the 18.4-cent federal gasoline tax that finances all highway, road, bridge, and transit projects. Depending on whether Congress eventually passes a two-year or a six-year highway bill, hundreds of thousands or millions of jobs could be at stake. The threat of losing federal gas-tax revenue, even temporarily, has planners at the federal, state, and county levels nervous about green-lighting projects and contractors edgy about closing down work at the end of the construction season in the East and Midwest. PHOTO: KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/GETTY IMAGES(PHOTO: KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/GETTY IMAGES)
Aviation Funding: Congress has until Sept. 16 to either extend temporary funding for the Federal Aviation Administration or resolve its differences over a House Republican-proposed two-year FAA reauthorization bill. A partisan standoff in August over FAA funding left 4,000 federal aviation workers furloughed and denied the government $400 million in airline-ticket tax revenue. The stalemate also idled 74,000 private-sector workers whose jobs were tied to FAA construction and engineering projects through the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. PHOTO: MARK RALSTON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES(PHOTO: MARK RALSTON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Disaster Relief: Thousands of Americans are recovering from natural disasters—tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri, Hurricane Irene that sopped states from North Carolina to Vermont, and a Texas drought followed by wildfires. Federal disaster funds have become so scarce, however, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is paying only to alleviate threats to “life and limb.” The House passed funding for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Program this summer but the Democratic-controlled Senate has yet to pass the disaster-funding bill — they have until Sept. 30. In the meantime, every disaster-related need that isn’t a life-and-death emergency is off-limits to federal dollars. This means disaster victims could find themselves without the means to rebuild their homes and businesses, and merchants who would have gotten that repair-and-recovery business would share the negative consequences. PHOTO: SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES(PHOTO: SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES)
The Fiscal 2012 Budget: The budget for fiscal 2012 is in shambles. A shutdown looms if policy decisions on an array of spending questions aren’t resolved by Sept. 30. The Senate is yet to act on 12 separate spending bills and the House has been silent on six, leaving two-thirds of the country’s 2012 budgeting process in limbo. Many budget experts expect Congress to punt on the budget until mid-November, when the super committee charged with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit savings is due to report its findings. At what level Congress will finance the federal budget in the meantime remains a sticking point, adding another log to the fire of congressionally manufactured economic uncertainty. PHOTO: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES(PHOTO: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES)
Pending Free-Trade Deals: The South Korea free-trade deal has been in limbo since 2007, the Colombia and Panama pacts since 2006. All three deals are hung up in a procedural thicket related to Trade Adjustment Assistance—taxpayer aid to American workers who lose their jobs as a result of free-trade agreements. The White House wants Congress to pass TAA benefits before Obama sends the trade deals over for approval. Trade officials project the approval of the South Korea deal could boost U.S. gross domestic product by $10 billion to $12 billion and create 100,000 new manufacturing and agriculture jobs in the next year. The Colombia pact could bolster GDP by another $2.5 billion. Estimates for the Panama deal are less robust. Handshake deals have been made to proceed on the trade pacts but there's no iron-clad agreement yet on TAA sequencing, meaning potential trade-generated jobs remain a mirage. PHOTO: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES(PHOTO: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)