White House pushes Congress to revisit Obama transportation plan

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The White House pushed lawmakers on Monday to take another look at President Obama’s $302 billion proposal for a new transportation bill as federal infrastructure funding nears a bankruptcy that would stall hundreds of U.S. construction projects. 

Lawmakers are scrambling to come up with a way to pay for an extension of federal road and transit funding before a bankruptcy in the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund that has been projected to occur next month. 

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that lawmakers should reconsider Obama’s proposal to use revenue from closing corporate tax loopholes to replenish the transportation fund as the deadline draws near. 

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“The proposal that I've seen that I like the best is one that was put forward by this administration,” Earnest said when asked about Congressional progress on identifying a way to pay for the transportation funding fix. 

“It is a common-sense proposal that certainly deserves the kind of bipartisan support that unfortunately is all too rare in Washington these days,” Earnest continued. “The proposal put forward by the administration … involves closing loopholes that only benefit the wealthy and well-connected, and closing those loopholes generates some revenue that could then be used to invest in the kind of infrastructure that benefits everybody, those at the top and — and middle class families around the country, and also would support a lot of jobs that are at risk if the trust fund itself is threatened.” 

Congress has largely ignored Obama’s proposal, which calls for using approximately $150 billion from closing corporate tax loopholes to help pay for a four-year extension of transportation funding, thus far. 

The traditional funding source for transportation projects has been revenue that is collected from the federal gas tax, which is currently priced at 18.4 cents per gallon. But the tax has struggled to keep up with infrastructure expenses as cars have become more fuel efficient in recent years, and the fund now runs a shortfall of $16 billion per year. 

The current transportation bill, which is scheduled to expire in September, includes approximately $50 billion per year in infrastructure spending. The gas tax only brings in about $34 billion per year, however. 

The expiring transportation bill also includes the federal government’s authorization to collect the gas tax at all. 

Earnest said Monday of Obama's recommendation that “there are a lot of reasons that what we put forward is a common-sense proposal. 

“We're certainly open to reviewing other proposals that others may put forward,” he said. “But in terms of how we think this … important piece of business should get done, we've been pretty clear about what we think is the proper path forward.”