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Obama: Road funding could be late-term achievement

Obama: Road funding could be late-term achievement
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President Obama on Tuesday listed boosting the nation's infrastructure funding as an area where progress is possible before he leaves office in 2017. 

Asked during a joint press conference with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff about legislation he plans to pursue during his final months in the White House, Obama identified a long-term transportation bill as a priority. 

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"I want to see if we can get bipartisan work done with Congress around rebuilding our infrastructure," he said. "Brazil just talked about their rebuilding of highways and roads and ports and bridges. You know what? We've got the same work to do and we need to put people back to work there." 

Lawmakers face a July 31 deadline for the expiration of the current infrastructure measure, and are struggling to come up with a way to pay for even an extension that would keep the spending levels flat past this summer. 

Obama has proposed a $478 billion transportation bill that he says would cover six years worth of infrastructure projects. The administration has proposed paying for the measure by taxing corporate profits that are stored overseas through a process that is known as "repatriation." 

The proposal is an effort to address a transportation funding shortfall that is estimated to be about $16 billion per year. 

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion annually. 

Congress has been grappling with the deficit for a decade, but they have not passed a transportation bill that lasts longer than two years in that span. 

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will take about $100 billion, in addition to the gas tax revenue, to close the gap long enough to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill. 

Republicans have said they are open to the president's repatriation idea, but they have questioned the administration's plan to institute a 14-percent tax rate and make the payments mandatory instead of voluntary. 

Transportation supporters have pushed for a gas tax increase to pay for a long-term transportation bill, meanwhile, but Republican lawmakers have ruled out such a hike

Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the transportation funding gap in recent years, resulting in temporary fixes, such as a two-month patch that was approved by lawmakers last month. 

If lawmakers cannot come up with a way to pay for the long-term transportation bill by the end of July, they will likely have to settle for another short-term patch. 

Obama praised Brazil on Tuesday for boosting its own transportation spending, saying that it could give American workers an opportunity to work on construction projects there. 

"We're announcing a series of new steps to boost trade and investment that creates jobs for our peoples," he said. "With Brazil's recent announcement on infrastructure, American companies will have more opportunities to compete for projects to develop Brazil's highways, airports, ports and railways."