White House plans highway funding blitz

 

President Obama and other top administration officials will pressure Congress to strike a deal on the Highway Trust Fund in a series of events this week, looking to coerce a deal before the financing for road, bridge, and mass-transit projects is exhausted next month.

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The president will speak twice on the importance of funding infrastructure — on Tuesday from a facility that tests new highway technologies in Northern Virginia and on Thursday from an infrastructure site in Delaware.

At the event in Delaware, Obama is expected to announce new private-sector investment in the nation’s infrastructure. The White House on Monday will release a new report from the Council of Economic Advisers arguing that transportation provides long-term economic benefits for the overall economy.

As part of the push, the White House also plans to debut a new website featuring an interactive map that allows Americans to see transportation construction projects where they live. Users will also be encouraged to submit photos of road, bridge and traffic conditions.

Committees in the House and Senate approved measures last week that would provide approximately $10 billion more for highway projects, keeping the trust fund solvent into next year.

That’s a concession to Republicans; Senate Democrats preferred an approach that would have brought the issue up again during a lame-duck session after the November elections. Lawmakers hope the next round of negotiations could produce a deal for long-term funding of the highway system.

Still, the two chambers remain significantly apart on the short-term measure, which needs to pass in the final three working weeks before Congress adjourns for August recess. If lawmakers fail to strike a deal, the Department of Transportation says it will begin cutting payments to state and local governments starting Aug. 1.

“This week Congress will consider a solution to avoid that scenario, and the President will continue to urge Republican lawmakers to not block it,” a White House official said in a statement.

While the House and Senate bills are largely similar, House Republicans object to provisions in the Senate bill designed to raise tax revenue by requiring taxpayers to provide more information about their mortgage interest deductions. Senate Democrats project that doing so would raise revenue by increasing compliance with existing tax law.

The House Rules Committee said it will consider a bills enveloped by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), meaning their legislation should hit the House floor sometime this week.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will also be urging congressional action with a series of events planned throughout the week.

On Monday, he will join West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Rep. Nick Rahall at a bridge replacement project in the Democrats’ home state.

“Secretary Foxx will tour the bridge and then hold a press conference, focusing on the state’s transportation needs and the potential impact on West Virginia if the Highway Trust Fund becomes insolvent later this summer,” the White House official said.

Those efforts are in addition to a push by Vice President Biden last week. On Wednesday, Biden hosted 40 business executives at the White House to ask them to pressure Congress to strike a deal on the highway funding.

On Friday, Biden called on the country’s governors to help break through partisan gridlock on the issue during a speech to their convention in Nashville.

"You've got to lead us out of this mess we're in," Biden said.

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