By Andrew Taylor, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The top Democrat on Capitol Hill said Thursday that Congress will tap unused funds from the Wall Street bailout to pay for new spending on roads and bridges and save the jobs of firefighters, teachers and other public employees.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said money from the bailout should be used to pay for jobs legislation that would funnel billions of dollars to road, bridge and other infrastructure projects and also help struggling state and local governments retain public employees. She also promised help for small businesses reeling from a credit crunch.
After talks with the administration officials such as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, congressional Democrats are eying up to $70 billion in funds from last year's $700 billion Wall Street bailout to finance job-related legislation, a House Democratic aide said. The aide required anonymity to describe the private talks.
Pelosi's remarks to reporters came as the White House called a jobs forum of business and labor leaders to explore ideas on how to boost slumping employment figures.Pelosi didn't give a price tag on the initiative and said it would come on top of a costly "safety net" initiative that would again extend unemployment payments for those whose benefits have run out and renew a program that offers the jobless a 65% subsidy for health insurance premiums under the COBRA program.
Most of what Pelosi described were ideas included in February's $787 billion economic recovery bill. Even the most ardent supporters of that measure wish it were doing more to boost jobs.
"We want to build upon what has been successful for us," Pelosi said.
One new idea Democrats and the White House are looking at is a program to give people cash incentives to retrofit their homes with energy-saving materials along the lines of the Cash for Clunkers program that boosted car sales this summer.