Obama says no executive action on transportation funding

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President Obama said Thursday that he would have to rely on Congress to approve a transportation funding fix, even as he has goaded GOP critics of his executive actions in other areas. 

"We’re not going to be able to fund the Highway Trust Fund and to ramp up our investment in infrastructure without acts of Congress," Obama said during a speech on the economy Thursday. 

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"That’s something that we need Congress to help us on," he added.

The comments came days after Obama dared Republicans leaders in Congress to sue him after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) threatened to file a legal challenge to his recent executive actions in areas such as immigration.

"Middle-class families can't wait for Republicans in Congress to do stuff, so sue me," Obama said defiantly on Tuesday. 

"As long as they do nothing, I'm not going to apologize for doing something," the president continued.

Obama struck a slightly more conciliatory tone in his remarks on Thursday, saying he hoped Republicans would be encouraged to strike a compromise on transportation funding by positive employment numbers that were released. 

"My hope is, is the American people look at today’s news and understand that, in fact, we are making strides," he said. "We have not seen more consistent job growth since the ‘90s. But we can make even more progress if Congress is willing to work with my administration and to set politics aside, at least occasionally … which I know is what the American people are urgently looking for."

The Department of Transportation has said the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in August, unless Congress acts to prevent it.

The agency has warned states it would begin cutting payments for road and transit projects at the beginning of next month unless Congress passes a fix.

Lawmakers are struggling with a way to close a $16 billion per year shortfall in federal transportation funding.

The traditional source of revenue has been the federal gas tax, which is priced at 18.4 cents per gallon. The gas tax has struggled to keep pace with infrastructure expenses as cars have become more fuel efficient, however.

The current transportation bill that is expiring in September includes approximately $50 billion in infrastructure spending, but gas tax brings in only brings in about $34 billion per year.  

Transportation advocates have pushed Congress to consider increasing the gas tax for the first time since 1993 to close the funding gap, but lawmakers have resisted hiking the amount drivers have to pay in the middle of an election year.