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Senator's filibuster threatens highway jobs: DOT

By Aaron Smith, CNNMoney.com staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Department of Transportation secretary Ray LaHood on Monday blamed a senator's filibuster for furloughing thousands of federal employees and threatening state jobs while shutting down highway construction projects nationwide.

"As American families are struggling in tough economic times, I am keenly disappointed that political games are putting a stop to important construction projects around the country," wrote LaHood, in a press release. "This means that construction workers will be sent home from job sites because federal inspectors must be furloughed."

LaHood was referring to the one-man filibuster of Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., who has blocked a bill that would, among other things, provide a short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund, which is a federal fund set up to pay for transportation projects around the country.

Bunning spokesman Mike Reynard did not speak directly about the job disruptions cited by LaHood, when asked about it by CNNMoney.com, but he reiterated Bunning's belief that if 100 senators support the bill, they should come up with the $10 billion to fund it on a pay-as-you-go basis.

"Sen. Bunning supports this bill," said Reynard. "He believes it's essential, and he believes we should pass it. But he believes we should pay for it. "

Reynard said that Bunning suggested an amendment that would use stimulus funds to extend the highway projects, but it was rejected by Democrats.

Speaking from the floor of the U.S. Senate on Friday, Bunning said, "There are going to be other bills brought to this floor that are not going to be paid, and I'm going to object every time they do it."

Jobs on the line

LaHood said that up to 2,000 employees of the U.S. DOT will be sent home without pay. He said that federal inspectors will be removed from 42 road construction sites on federal lands throughout the country, ranging from a $1.1 million clean-up project in Tongass National Forest in Alaska to a $7.2 million construction of a roundabout on St. John in the Virgin Islands. The most expensive project to be affected is the $36 million replacement of the George Washington Parkway Humpback Bridge in Virginia and Washington, D.C.

The DOT secretary also said the interruption of the Highway Trust Fund will block the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of highway reimbursements to state projects.

Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-Missour, said the filibuster directly threatens construction jobs in his home state.

"It's outrageous that one Senator can kill a piece of legislation and cause chaos for our cities and states," said Carnahan, in a press release. "Thanks to one senator's stubbornness, Missouri will not be reimbursed for its federal share of highway projects until we get this mess sorted out."

Carnahan spokesman Jim Hubbard said that the filibuster doesn't necessarily mean that workers will immediately be sent home. But it does immediately halt the bidding process in Missouri, said Hubbard, causing a backlog in construction projects. To top of page

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