(Recasts with Obama comments on Highway Trust Fund)
By Jeff Mason and David Lawder
WASHINGTON, July 15 President Barack Obama on
Tuesday threw his weight behind a temporary fix for the depleted
Highway Trust Fund during an event to tout his administration's
work with the private sector to develop cars that communicate
using wireless technology.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives was
poised on Tuesday to approve a $10 billion infusion for the
fund, enough to keep money flowing to road, bridge and transit
projects at least through the end of May 2015.
Without new money, the Department of Transportation has said
it will start to cut back federal funding for projects by nearly
a third on August 1, putting hundreds of thousands of jobs at
risk. Congress begins a five-week summer recess that same day.
White House support for the 10-month extension has annoyed
some Democrats who are opposed because it would push decisions
on long-term funding to a newly elected Congress next year.
Obama weighed in on the issue shortly after taking a wild
ride in a car simulator at a highway research center in McClean,
Virginia, near Washington.
"The good news is there are bipartisan bills in both the
House and the Senate that would help with a short-term fix. And
I support that. At the very least, Congress should be keeping
people on the job who are already there right now," Obama said.
"But all this does is set us up for the same crisis a few
months from now. So Congress shouldn't pat itself on the back
for averting disaster for a few months, kicking the can down the
road for a few months, careening from crisis to crisis when it
comes to something as basic as our infrastructure."
The Highway Trust Fund, which has been supported by fuel tax
revenues since its inception in 1956, has run chronically short
of money in recent years because of higher construction costs
and improved vehicle fuel economy. Trucking firms and many other
industry groups favor an increase in fuel tax rates, which have
remained unchanged since 1993.
House Republicans have ruled that out, and their temporary
measure would be funded by revenues from pension accounting
changes and increased customs fees, which have received support
from both Democrats and Republicans in the past.
The Senate Finance Committee has approved a similar
extension, with some different offsets to improve tax
compliance. Both versions would also transfer $1 billion in
existing money to construction projects from a fund for cleanup
of leaking underground fuel storage tanks.
CARS OF THE FUTURE
During his visit at the research center, Obama touted work
on so-called vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure
communication technology to improve navigation. The technology
allows cars, trucks and other vehicles to send real-time
information wirelessly, an innovation researchers hope can help
reduce accidents and boost fuel efficiency by alleviating
"As the father of a daughter who just turned 16, any new
technology that makes driving safer is important to me," Obama
said, referring to his oldest daughter, Malia.
U.S. regulators are already crafting a proposed rule that
would require all new vehicles to use the new technology, which
could be put in place by early 2017, before Obama leaves office.
The event was meant to showcase efforts to ensure
vehicle-to-vehicle communication is safe, pointing to a joint
effort between leading carmakers and the University of Michigan
Transportation Research Institute.
Ford Motor Co, General Motors Co, Honda Motor
Co, Hyundai Motor Co, Daimler AG's
Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America,
Inc., Nissan Motor Co, Toyota Motor Corp, and
Volkswagen AG are all part of the research effort,
according to the White House.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Steve Holland;
Editing by Dan Grebler)