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Let's Recycle Unspent Bailout Money for Infrastructure Jobs

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On Monday of this week, I came out decisively in my campaign for the U.S. Senate against a troop surge in Afghanistan because I believe the costs are too great--in human lives and economic resources--to continue along the current path.

President Obama informed the American public the next day that he plans to deploy 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan with a definite timetable to begin withdrawal, starting in July of 2011. Despite the future promise of relief, I would rather have our soldiers building bridges and schools right here in Ohio than in Afghanistan.

Today is the White House "jobs summit" where 100 invited guests from business, labor, academia, nonprofits, entrepreneurs and small business will explore how to jump start hiring that usually lags behind economic growth.

We have much rebuilding to do at home, and there are so many who cannot find work, especially in Ohio. Let's put them to work, by recycling financial bailout money to rebuild our infrastructure.

Here's an example of what I mean: Ohio has 54 deficient truss-deck bridges, the highest number in the country. Meanwhile, Ohio's jobless rate rose last month to 10.5% as 618,000 Ohio workers found themselves unemployed, their families struggling to get by.

Nationally, the unemployment rate for October is at 10.2%, and this does not account for the 808,000 discouraged workers counted that month, up from 484,000 a year earlier (discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them), or the other 1.6 million persons marginally attached to the labor force in October who had not searched for work in the four weeks preceding the survey for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities.

People all across Ohio are hurting. We are losing our jobs, our health care, our homes, and our savings - all through no fault of ours. Yet the political right is now assailing the deficit to get us to "freeze in our tracks," slowing recovery. Now is the time for change.

We've tried bailing out Wall Street; it hasn't worked. Altogether, our government has lent, spent or guaranteed more than $10 trillion in bailing out Wall Street, and Ohio's middle class and working families have precious little to show for it - other than higher unemployment, reduced wages, fewer benefits, and virtually no access to credit for our small and mid-sized businesses.

We know that "trickle down" economics is voodoo economics. The grave warnings from the right that now we need to cut taxes with "no more bailout" are political ploys that show no courage, foresight or compassion. Deficits are not good, but Americans and their families suffering without work is far worse. Putting people to work is the surest way to drive down the deficit.

We don't need to issue "new" money to create jobs. We can create jobs while tackling the rebuilding of our infrastructure with leftover and paid-back bailout funds from Wall Street.

The Treasury Department reports that about $210 billion of the $700 billion bank bailout fund known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was not spent in averting the collapse of Wall Street that was widely feared late last year. That includes $72.5 billion that has been paid back by banks that weathered the crisis, and the Treasury expects to be repaid another $50 billion over the next 12 to 18 months. The future of this potential $260 billion fund has not yet been decided.

Instead of borrowing more money and digging our deficit hole deeper to fund nation-building activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, Congress should invest a substantial portion of the unspent TARP funding on nation-building here at home. And we can start by rebuilding our infrastructure, state-by-state. Here in Ohio, investing in our aging highways, bridges, and water and sewer systems will make our lives safer while creating jobs for tens of thousands of Ohioans who want to work.

Jobs to repair and strengthen our infrastructure will produce benefits for many more Ohioans than just construction and building trade workers and their families. Infrastructure investment means work for engineers, planners, and managers, and manufacturing jobs for equipment and parts suppliers. Steady work in all of these areas means more spending on daily necessities like food and clothing and even durable goods. Ohio desperately needs the chain of economic activity that infrastructure investment can generate.

It's time to use leftover bailout money for Main Street. In this new era of a "green" economy, Ohioans will gladly accept the recycled funds of Wall Street to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, take care of their families and rebuild our great state. I can assure you, it will be put to better use in America's heartland than in the pockets of Wall Street CEOs. Let's get moving. Now is the time for change.

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