The Top Three Issues Congress Should Be Tackling

Congress is once again in the midst of a showdown over the federal budget and a possible government shutdown. We've seen this scene before, and it is getting to be like Groundhog Day here in Washington, D.C.; only the American people didn't pay to see this movie. Rather, they have spoken loud and clear -- in elections and polls -- the top three issues they care about are:

1. Jobs
2. Jobs
3. Jobs

Lately, we've read some good news about jobs. Unemployment has fallen to 7.3 percent and August was the 42nd straight month of private sector job creation. Even before the last jobs report came out, the economy had added twice as many jobs under President Obama as it did during the full eight years of the previous administration. That's a lot of new jobs and represents real progress. But there is room for improvement.

At our country's pace of job creation, it would take more than seven years to fully recover all the jobs that were lost in the Great Recession, according to the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution. That is just not acceptable. More needs to be done to create jobs and it needs to be done now. Fortunately, there is a simple way for Congress to spark job creation: stop threatening government shut downs and credit defaults, end the so-called sequester, and invest in American infrastructure

Sequestration is a series of indiscriminate, one-size-fits all cuts to the federal budget. While its name may produce a yawn, the sequester is really a job-killing nightmare. According to the Congressional Budget Office, these spending cuts will cost our economy up to 1.6 million new jobs next year alone. The sequester slashes funding to Head Start -- kicking hundreds of thousands of kids out of pre-school and costing thousands of jobs. It cuts life-saving medical research, setting our country's competitiveness back and keeping our scientists at home. Homeland security, public safety, environmental protections all have been harmed by these across-the-board budget cuts. Critical infrastructure investments that create jobs and improve our communities are being put off. Our economic policy should stimulate employment and growth, not stifle it.

A look at what's happening with three major infrastructure projects in the district I'm privileged to represent shows what can happen when we invest in our country.

In Manhattan, work is underway on the Second Avenue Subway, a project for which I helped secure $1.3 billion in federal funding. That $4.451 billion project will create 16,000 new jobs during construction and provide an enormous economic boost to the region. The new subway line will mean faster commutes for thousands of people every day and provide a better way to get around our nation's largest city.

I've also championed a new rail link, the East Side Access tunnel, to connect the Long Island Railroad in Queens to Grand Central Terminal. This nearly $8 billion project will allow hundreds of thousands of Queens and Long Island commuters to go straight to Manhattan's east side without having to change trains -- saving time and money and creating 31,000 jobs. Nearly $3 billion of this funding came from federal programs, without which this project would not be happening.

Between Brooklyn and Queens, the aging Kosciuszko Bridge over Newtown Creek will soon be replaced. The new bridge will improve safety, prevent accidents, and reduce traffic congestion. The $800 million replacement, which includes $670 million in federal funds, will also create approximately 14,000 jobs.

With 66,749 structurally deficient bridges making up one-third of the total bridge decking area in the country, according to the American Society for Civil Engineers there is no shortage of infrastructure needs in our country.

These projects can be real investments in our future that create jobs now, improve our communities, and lay the foundation for future economic growth. Goods get to market, employees get to work, and customers get to stores faster and more efficiently with less time wasted sitting in traffic.

We have made real substantive progress in our recovery from the Great Recession. The economy continues to grow, inflation remains in check, the manufacturing sector is expanding, and the budget deficit is falling. But the rate of job creation badly needs a real boost. Fortunately, we know how to do this. Infrastructure investments are a time-tested way to make travel safer and more efficient. Congress needs to stop fighting the same battle about shutting down the government and make job creation "Job One."