By Keith Laing
President Obama on Wednesday will push Congress to pass a new surface transportation bill when it returns from recess next week, the White House announced Tuesday night.
The current version of the federal highway bill, which among other things allows Congress to collect the tax on gasoline sales, expires Sept. 30. With recent fights in the transportation sector — over such matters as Federal Aviation Administration funding — devolving into partisan fights, there has been speculation that the highway bill could be the next impasse that causes a shutdown in Washington.
But in a Rose Garden speech, Obama will argue this issue is too important to the fragile U.S. economy to not resolve quickly after lawmakers return from their traditional August recess.
“The president will discuss the importance of moving forward with this extension to protect nearly a million American jobs and highlight the opportunity we have to work in a bipartisan way to further invest in rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure to strengthen our economy and create new jobs across the country,” the White House said in a news release.
The House and Senate are currently far apart on the bill that allows the money to be collected and appropriates it to road projects in states: the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).
The House has proposed a six-year, $235 billion bill, while the Senate has suggested a two-year, $109 billion measure.
Transportation advocates generally support the longer length of the House measure, but like the higher per-year spending of the Senate proposal.
Both proposals are significantly less than the $556 billion Obama proposed spending on transportation at the beginning of this year.
The White House said Obama will be joined Wednesday by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Chamber of Commerce COO David Chavern. Trumka is a member of Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
The AFL-CIO and the Chamber found rare consensus earlier this year, coming out against the House GOP proposal and arguing instead for a “robust” transportation bill.
This post was updated with new information at 7:56 a.m.