Obama to urge approval of stop-gap air, road bills

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 30, 2011 8:58 PM
Obama to urge approval of stop-gap air, road bills

By John Crawley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will urge Congress on Wednesday to approve stop-gap aviation and transportation infrastructure legislation to temporarily maintain funding for airport and road construction projects and preserve jobs in a tough economy.

Obama wants Congress not to repeat the type of partisan fight over temporary funding that shut down airport construction programs for two weeks in July. That disruption also resulted in losing $400 million in aviation-related tax revenue that helps pay for those programs.

U.S. transportation spending, especially the tens of billions of dollars spent on roads annually, is a key driver of economic activity and employment.

A White House official, who did not want to speak for attribution ahead of Obama's Rose Garden remarks, said on Tuesday the president would urge lawmakers to pass "clean extensions" of bills covering Federal Aviation Administration airport programs and Transportation Department highway and transit accounts.

That means legislation should cover a set period of time without conditions. Those types of extensions generally last one to six months.

Ticket taxes underwrite FAA spending on airport construction, while gasoline taxes pay for highway and transit upgrades.

Without extensions, the law authorizing the 7.5 percent aviation ticket tax will expire on September 16 while the one allowing the federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon will end on September 30.

Temporary bills authorizing continued federal collection of tax revenues for aviation and highway programs are necessary until Congress approves permanent legislation. The last multiyear FAA bill expired in 2007 while the previous transportation plan ended in September 2009.

Temporary extensions normally generate little, if any, notice in Congress. But Republicans, especially in the House of Representatives, attached a rider to the July FAA funding extension that triggered a fight with the Senate.

There is some concern among congressional Democrats that Republicans will try again to add spending restraints or other proposals to one or both of the transportation-related bills, especially the one covering gas taxes.

Related lobbying kicked into gear on Tuesday with transportation groups urging their members to contact lawmakers in support of "clean extensions."

"You look at the extent to which FAA caught everyone by surprise. I don't think we can take anything for granted as we approach the transportation (highway) bill," said Peter Norris, congressional relations manager for AAA, the nationwide motorist services group with 51 million members in the United States and Canada.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; editing by Mohammad Zargham)