Obama Calls for Extension of Gas Tax to Fund Highway Construction, Repair

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President Obama called on Congress Wednesday to pass a transportation funding bill that includes an extension of the federal gas tax, claiming the move would protect about 1 million jobs.

At issue is the renewal of a transportation spending bill that expires Sept. 30. The president, speaking in the Rose Garden, said a failure to pass the bill by that date would result in the government losing needed money and construction workers losing needed jobs.

"That's just not acceptable. It's inexcusable," he said.

Though the president describes the proposal as a transportation bill, its key component is the federal gas tax, which has been 18.4 cents per gallon for nearly two decades. The money is used to fund road construction and repair, as well as other projects -- the tax costs Americans an average of $100 a year.

The call for renewal comes as gas prices remain high -- the national average for a gallon of regular is about $3.62, a dollar more than a year ago. Some conservatives want to allow states, not the federal government, to raise and spend the gas tax money.

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But Obama said America's infrastructure -- everything from bridges to public transit -- needs the funding now. He said a 10-day delay would cost $1 billion in lost funding. He said 1 million people could lose their jobs over the course of next year without the renewal. Obama called on Congress to pass the "clean" extension "as soon as they come back" from break next week.

The president was joined by several transportation workers, as well as labor union and business leaders, two groups that often are at odds.

The House is considering a six-year, $230 billion bill which would cut spending from current levels and be paid entirely with current fuel taxes. The Senate proposal would last only two years and cost $109 billion.

Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said the Republican plan in the House would achieve the goal of providing "responsible funding for critical infrastructure needs without adding to the deficit."  He said the GOP plan would limit what is spent to what is taken in from the gas tax, and questioned why the president was raising alarm about the bill.

"Aside from the president today, no one has suggested the highway bill will be allowed to expire. These types of scare tactics are irresponsible, transparently political, and needlessly add uncertainty to our economy," he said in a statement. "Republicans support an extension of the highway bill and appreciate the need for a long-term solution for infrastructure projects. ... Despite his remarks today, so far we've not seen a comparable proposal from the president."

Obama also called on Congress to pass clutter-free legislation extending the Federal Aviation Administration's operating authority, which expires in mid-September.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.