Obama: Tell Congress to 'get past differences and send me' highway bill

Voters in Michigan and other states should pressure Congress to pass a federal highway bill, President Obama said Thursday during a speech at a car battery plant in Michigan. 

"Tell Congress to get past their differences and send me a road construction bill so that companies can put tens of thousands of people to work building our roads, our bridges, our seaports," Obama told a cheering crowd at the Johnson Controls Inc. advanced battery facility in Holland, Mich.

When Congress returns from its traditional August recess, lawmakers are expected to debate a long-term highway bill that is currently on its seventh extension. The current version of the bill, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) act, expires Sept. 30.

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The House and Senate are proposing drastically different versions of the legislation. The House unveiled a six-year, $230 billion bill that would spend about $35 billion per year on transportation, while the Senate rolled out a two-year, $109 billion bill that would spend about $54 billion per year on roads and highways.

Advocates have expressed a preference for the length of the House proposal and the dollar amount of the Senate's.

Some observers are worried the differences between the competing proposals could make the issue the next to cause gridlock in Washington, jeopardizing the collection of the federal gas tax.

Despite their differences, both the House and Senate proposals are far smaller than the $556 billion Obama called for investing in transportation at the beginning of the year.

Obama also tied a push for new international trade deals into transportation, saying "I want folks in Korea driving Chevys, Fords and Chryslers."

A series of free-trade agreements, with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, as well as reauthorization of the Generalized System of Preferences, the Andean Trade Preferences Act and the Trade Adjustment Assistance program are all before Congress.

Despite his call for congressional action when lawmakers return, however, Obama dismissed suggestions from pundits that he call them back to Washington early.

"The last thing we need is Congress spending more time arguing in D.C.," he  told the crowd.

Instead, Obama said lawmakers should spend the recess period listening to their constituents' frustrations.