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Obama urges passage of air, road bills

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Obama urges passage of air, road bills
Joy Lovaas, age 4, daughter of NRDC Federal Transportation Policy Director Deron Lovaas, listens to U.S. President Barack Obama make a statement to urge Congress to pass an extension of a federal highway bill that would protect a million jobs, in the Rose Garden of the White House on August 31, 2011 in Washington, DC. UPI/Pat Benic. | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- President Obama called on the U.S. Congress to set politics aside and pass a clean federal highways bill extension he said would guard 1 million jobs Wednesday.

Flanked by members of his administration, and business and labor leaders, Obama also urged Congress to pass a clean extension of the Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill.

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"If we allow the transportation bill to expire, over 4,000 workers will be immediately furloughed without pay," Obama said.

Delaying the extension for 10 days would cost about $1 billion in highway funding, "money we can never get back," the president said.

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"And if it's delayed even longer, almost 1 million workers could lose their jobs over the course of the next year," Obama said.

Obama said failure to pass a clean extension "just because of politics" in the nation's capital was "inexcusable."

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He noted Congress just before it went into August recess failed to reauthorize the FAA, forcing thousands of aviation workers off the job and delaying necessary airport improvement projects across the country.

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A stopgap measure funded FAA through Sept. 16.

"At a time when a lot of people in Washington are talking about creating jobs," Obama said, "it's time to stop the political gamesmanship that can actually cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs."

The transportation bill and the FAA bill typically enjoy bipartisan support and have been routinely passed, Obama said.

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"So I'm calling on Congress, as soon as [it] come back, to pass a clean extension of the surface transportation bill, along with a clean extension of the FAA bill, to give workers and communities across America the confidence that vital construction projects won't come to a halt," Obama said.

Once those matters are addressed Obama said he would propose reforms to the way transportation money is invested to eliminate waste, give states more control and ensure projects yield the biggest bang for bucks invested.

"We need to stop funding projects based on whose districts they're in and start funding them based on how much good they're going to be doing for the American people," Obama said. "And we need to do this all in a way that gets the private sector more involved."

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Such changes would put construction workers back to work immediately and would boost the economy not just now, but for years ahead, Obama said.

Finally, Obama said Wednesday he was directing federal agencies to identify high-priority infrastructure projects that can put people back to work.

The projects are already funded, but could begin construction more quickly by expediting the permitting process, Obama said, noting his action was in line with a recommendation from his jobs council.

Congress also should expect "a serious conversation" about making lasting investments in the nation's infrastructure, Obama said.

"And at a time when interest rates are low and workers are unemployed, the best time to make those investments is right now, not once another levee fails or another bridge falls," Obama said. "Now is the time to put our country before party and to give certainty to the people who are just trying to get by."

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