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Obama scolds Congress: Stop leaving business "to the last minute"

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks prior to signing the 3-month extension of the Highway bill in the Oval Office of the White House July 31, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Alex Wong, Getty Images

As Congress takes off on a month-long vacation, President Obama issued a warning to the legislative body: when it comes to federal business, quit procrastinating.

"We should not be leaving all the business of the U.S. government to the last minute," Mr. Obama said Friday, as he signed a temporary extension for the highway funding bill. The Senate passed the measure, which prevents a 28 percent cut in federal highway and transit aid, late Thursday night -- a day before the previous funding bill was set to expire.

If Congress hadn't agreed in the last possible moment to a three-month extension for transportation funding, the president warned, "we would end up having projects all across the country that would be frozen after midnight."

"We have now made it a habit where instead of five-year funding plans for transportation," the president added, "we operate as if we're hand-to-mouth, three months at a time."

"It's a bad way for the U.S. government to do business," he said, because such last-minute legislative action creates uncertainty for businesses. Leaving federal funding to an 11th-hour vote "freezes a lot of construction, which makes people uncertain," and "leads to businesses not being willing to hire because they don't have any long-term certainty."

The president also lamented Congress' failure in putting together a budget, especially at a time when issues like defense funding could impact the U.S. campaign overseas against extremist terror groups.

"Congress has had all year to do a budget," Mr. Obama said. "And yet, Congress is leaving on vacation without the budget done. And when they get back, they're going to have about two weeks in order to do the people's business."

The president acknowledged that Congress probably deserved time to "refuel." But, he said, they would need to return in the next few weeks "prepared to come up with a plan and approach whereby Democrats and Republicans sit down and negotiate a budget that works for everybody."