Despite little bipartisan appetite for spending on Capitol Hill these days, President Obama implored Congress to "just do something" to improve the nation's infrastructure.
"The American people have to demand that folks in Washington do their job. Do something. That's my big motto for Congress right now: Just do something," the president said Tuesday at a research facility in McLean, Va., just outside Washington, D.C. "If they don't like the transportation plan that I put forward, at least come up with your own plan and we can compromise. But don't just sit there and do nothing. We don't have time. America's on the move. "
Mr. Obama is highlighting transportation and infrastructure this week as Congress works to address the most pressing issue, preventing the Highway Trust Fund from running out of money at the end of the summer. The Transportation Department (DOT) has predicted that letting the account expire could lead to 700,000 Americans losing jobs in road work, bridge-building and transit maintenance as 112,000 highway and 5,600 transit projects underway come to a halt.
The Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center, which hosted the event, specializes in testing new technologies for highway transportation innovations. Mr. Obama highlighted his administration's work on developing advanced technology such as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication that can help reduce traffic congestion and accidents, as well as saving fuel.
As he spoke, the House was preparing to vote on legislation that would put nearly $11 billion into the Highway Trust Fund in order to keep it solvent through next May. The plan from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., is paid for by a combination of pension tax changes, customs fees and money from a fund to repair leaking underground fuel storage tanks.
Despite a last-minute push from outside conservative groups to derail the short-term fix in favor of longer-term reforms, the measure is poised to pass the House with help from Democrats this afternoon.
On Monday, the White House came out in favor of the House plan even as it scolded Congress for not finding a long-term solution. Mr. Obama warned that although he supports the temporary fix, it will "set us up for the same crisis a few months from now."
"Congress shouldn't pat itself on the back for averting disaster for a few months, kicking the can down the road for a few months, careening from crisis to crisis when it comes to something as basic as our infrastructure," the president said. "Instead of barely paying for our bills in the present, we should be investing in the future. We should have a plan for how we're going to make sure that our roads, our bridges, our airports, our power grid, our water systems, how all those things are going to be funded."
Although Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has offered an alternative that relies more on improving tax compliance, the administration's endorsement of the House plan and the urgency of averting the shutdown of transportation projects ahead of the midterm elections could increase pressure on Senate Democrats to pass the House plan rather than put up a fight.
Mr. Obama is still pressing Congress to take up his four-year, $302 billion transportation plan that would be funded in part by the existing gas tax, and in part by closing tax loopholes for companies that send profits overseas. Or, he says, they should come up with a plan of their own.
"If Congress would just shift its priorities a little closer to working Americans' priorities we could save a lot of money," he said.