WASHINGTON — Warning of dire consequences for the nation's workers, President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged Congress to extend a federal highway bill that he said would protect a million jobs.
"For construction workers and their families across the country, it represents the difference between making ends meet or not making ends meet," Obama said during a speech in the Rose Garden.
At issue is the renewal of a transportation spending bill that expires Sept. 30. A Senate proposal would last only two years and cost $109 billion, while the House is considering a longer, six-year bill that could cut spending from current levels.
The president said 4,000 workers would be immediately furloughed without pay if the bill is not extended, and a significant delay could lead to 1 million workers losing their job over the next year.
"All of them will be out of a job just because of politics in Washington," Obama said. "That's just not acceptable. It's inexcusable."
The push for infrastructure spending comes as Obama prepares to unveil a jobs package next week that mixes spending and tax breaks.
The president is making the push for the transportation bill now in hopes of avoiding a standoff similar to one earlier this summer, when lawmakers failed to come to an agreement on an extension of the Federal Aviation Administration's operating authority.
Congress did ultimately reach a compromise to extend FAA funding through mid-September, but not before the aviation administration was partially shut for two weeks, idling tens of thousands of workers and costing the government about $30 million a day.
The looming shutdown was overshadowed by the all-consuming debt debate in Washington, and the president didn't start publicly pushing for an extension until after the FAA had already partially shut down.
Hoping for a different outcome this time, the White House gathered construction workers and administration officials in the Rose Garden Wednesday morning so the president could attempt to get ahead of the issue. He was also flanked by the leaders of two occasionally warring factions — AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and David Chavern, chief operating officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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