Obama scolds Congress at highway bill signing

Obama scolds Congress at highway bill signing
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President Obama on Friday signed a three-month stopgap bill preventing federal highway funding from drying up, but blasted lawmakers for failing to agree on a long-term measure.

"We can't keep on funding transportation by the seat of our pants," Obama told reporters in the Oval Office. "That’s just not how the greatest country [in the world] does business. I guarantee you that's not how China, Germany and other countries around the world handle their infrastructure.”

Obama, who has long pushed for a multi-year highway bill, said he had no choice but to sign the short-term measure to prevent an interruption of money for roads and bridges during the busy summer construction season.  

The president also chided Congress for failing to renew the Export-Import Bank, which was left out of the highway bill against the White House’s wishes, and for making little progress on budget talks.

"We should not be leaving all the business of the U.S. government until the last minute,” he said. 

Obama said the Ex-Im Bank "creates tens of thousands of jobs across the country” and argued its lapsed charter hurts businesses large and small.

The $8 billion package signed by Obama extends infrastructure spending until Oct. 29, punting the debate until fall. Money for surface transportation projects was set to expire on Friday.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate are at odds over how to cover an estimated $16 billion shortfall in transportation funding, and Capitol Hill has been unable to solve the issue for a decade.

The Senate passed a six-year highway bill on Thursday, which was negotiated by Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate blocks bill that opponents say weakens water pollution rules Pittsburgh police told to prepare for protests over potential Mueller firing: report Senate repeals auto-loan guidance in precedent-shattering vote MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerThe ‘bang for the buck’ theory fueling Trump’s infrastructure plan Kamala Harris endorses Gavin Newsom for California governor Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response MORE (D-Calif.).

But House Republicans refused to take up that plan. House members left town Wednesday, forcing the Senate to pass the three-month bill.

McConnell on Thursday sought to downplay tensions over highway funding with the House.

"We all want the House to have the space to develop its own bill, because we all want to work out the best possible legislation for the American people in a conference later this year," McConnell said ahead of the vote. 

— This story was updated at 1:08 p.m.