By Mike Lillis - 06/01/12 04:37 PM EDT
Blaming GOP obstructionism for the lingering jobs crisis, Democratic leaders on Friday called on House Republicans to bring a long-term highway bill to the floor.
The Democrats — led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) — noted that Friday's dismal jobs numbers included a steep decline — by 28,000 jobs — in construction employment. Reauthorizing transportation spending for two years, they argued, would help put those workers back on payrolls and stabilize the economy.
Hoyer echoed that message, noting that the Senate-passed highway bill was supported by 75 senators — a rare show of bipartisanship in an upper chamber that's practically defined by gridlock.
"That bill has the votes on the floor of the House of Representatives," Hoyer said. "But unfortunately the Republican leadership won't put it on the floor."
The Senate approved a two-year transportation reauthorization proposal in March, but a number of House conservatives have objected to its size, and GOP leaders have declined to consider it on the floor. Instead, House Republicans passed a short-term extension to authorize highway funding through Sept. 30 — a bill President Obama has vowed to veto because it would automatically approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline that's currently under environmental review.
Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said GOP leaders have no plans to bring the Senate bill to the floor, but are waiting on action from a bicameral conference committee.
"We already passed the highway bill," Steel said in an email.
The impasse has led to speculation that lawmakers will be forced to resort to a series of short-term extension bills to get Congress through the election season — an option Pelosi called "completely inappropriate."
Both Pelosi and Hoyer noted that the Senate bill was backed by a broad range of senators, highlighted by its sponsors, the liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and the conservative Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.).
"You'd almost have to be a contortionist in order to cover the expanse of opinion between Sen. Boxer and Sen. Inhofe, and yet they've come together in a bipartisan way," Pelosi said.
The Democrats called their last-minute press briefing in response to Friday's Labor Department report finding that the nation's economy created only 69,000 jobs in May, the lowest figure in a year and far below what analysts had predicted. The number included 82,000 jobs created in the private sector and 13,000 lost in the public sector.
Experts estimate the economy needs to create between 125,000 and 150,000 jobs each month just to keep up with the steady growth of job seekers. May's dismal numbers increased the nation's unemployment rate slightly, from 8.1 to 8.2 percent.
Last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) released an outline of the Republicans' agenda for the next two months, which raised eyebrows across the aisle for excluding a transportation reauthorization vote.
Without congressional action, the government loses its authority to spend highway and other transportation infrastructure funds on July 1.