WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama, under fire over high U.S. unemployment, stepped up pressure on Congress Saturday to pass transportation legislation he said would protect almost 1 million American jobs.
"Allowing this bill to expire would be a disaster for our infrastructure and our economy," the president said in his weekly radio address, after a monthly employment report showed the economy created no jobs in August.
Democrat Obama, who delivers a major speech Thursday on how he would boost hiring and growth, must bring down a jobless rate stuck at 9.1 percent to improve his chances of winning a second presidential term next year.
Repeating a message he issued in the White House Rose Garden earlier this week, Obama urged lawmakers to pass multibillion-dollar temporary funding bills for aviation and highway projects, or risk heaping more pain on the economy.
"If it's delayed for just 10 days, we will lose nearly $1 billion in highway funding that we can never get back. And if we wait even longer, almost 1 million workers could be in danger of losing their jobs over the next year," he said.
Republicans say they support an extension of the highway bill and view Obama's words as a way to deflect criticism over the economy away from the White House and toward Congress.
Obama's approval rating has slipped, after he spent July and August fighting with Republicans to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, which resulted in rating agency Standard & Poor's cutting the AAA U.S. credit rating. But polls show the American public holds Congress in even lower esteem.
"There's a lot of talk in Washington these days about creating jobs. But it doesn't help when those same folks turn around and risk losing hundreds of thousands of jobs just because of political gamesmanship," Obama said.
The law authorizing aviation ticket taxes to pay for airport construction under the Federal Aviation Administration expires on Sept. 16. A law directing gasoline taxes to underwrite road construction grants expires on Sept. 30. Both must be extended to continue funding while lawmakers craft legislation authorizing the programs over longer periods.
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