Obama pushes transport bills, says jobs at stake
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama urged Congress Wednesday to quickly pass multibillion-dollar temporary funding bills for aviation and highway projects, saying inaction would needlessly cost jobs.
Obama said it would be "inexcusable" for lawmakers to not act immediately on those measures when they return from their summer recess next week.
"At a time when a lot of people in Washington are talking about creating jobs, it's time to stop political gamesmanship that could cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs," Obama said at the White House.
Partisan wrangling temporarily halted funding of airport construction projects last month and cost the Treasury $400 million in tax receipts. Thousands of federal employees and construction workers were idled during the shutdown.
The law authorizing aviation ticket taxes to pay for airport construction under the Federal Aviation Administration expires on September 16. The law allowing gasoline taxes to underwrite road construction grants by the Transportation Department expires on September 30.
Both must be extended to continue funding while lawmakers keep struggling to craft legislation authorizing those programs over longer periods.
Some Democrats say they are worried Republicans will again hold up transportation funds to show their determination to cut federal spending and lower taxes.
But the office of House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, said Obama was using scare tactics to score political points.
"Aside from the president today, no one has suggested the highway bill will be allowed to expire," said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck. "Republicans support an extension of the highway bill and appreciate the need for a long-term solution for infrastructure projects."
Obama's remarks presaged his plans next week to lay out a broad strategy for creating jobs, including proposals to boost U.S. infrastructure development.
Spending on shovel-ready infrastructure is seen as a quick way to boost to the U.S. economy, which barely grew in the first half of the year.
The construction industry, once the engine of job growth, was hit hard by the housing downturn and has yet to recover. The sector's unemployment rate exceeded 13 percent in July.
The government spends $110 million per day on highway construction, funneling $42 billion annually to states, federal and state officials said. There are currently $60 billion in transportation projects underway and states are fronting the costs with the understanding they will be reimbursed by the federal government.
Reimbursements would stop if the law is allowed to expire and projects -- and the jobs that go with them -- would gradually wind down.
Many states have yet to recover from the recession and have chopped spending and increased taxes to close budget gaps. They would be reluctant to sign new transportation construction contracts if the funding law expires.
Aviation, construction, state government, labor and business lobbying groups are mounting campaigns in support of Obama's call for passage of the two extensions without amendments.
(Additional reporting by Alister Bull and Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Vicki Allen)
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