President Barack Obama defended his proposal to levy a new $10-per-barrel tax on oil, arguing that low gasoline prices afford the U.S. an opportunity to finance dramatic improvements in its transportation systems.

"Right now, gas is $1.80 and gas prices are expected to be low for the forseeable future," Obama told reporters at the White House. It’s "important to use this period when gas prices are low to accelerate the transition to a clean-energy economy," he said.

The proposed fee drew swift objections on Thursday from oil-industry groups and congressional Republicans. The idea is part of a broader Obama administration plan to shift the nation away from transportation systems reliant on internal-combustion engines and fossil fuels. The plan envisions investing $20 billion to reduce traffic congestion and improve commuting, $10 billion for state and local transportation and climate programs and $2 billion for research on clean vehicles and aircraft.

"We’ll have a much stronger economy, stronger infrastructure, we’ll be creating the jobs of the future," Obama said.

It isn’t clear how the tax would be structured or who would pay it. White House officials said it wouldn’t be assessed at the wellhead. Exported oil wouldn’t be subject to the tax, though Obama misspoke during his remarks and said it would. Jeff Zients, director of the National Economic Council, told reporters on Thursday that the White House expects oil companies would pass on some costs of the tax to their customers.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, called the proposal "dead on arrival." Republicans "always say" that, Obama said.

He said he plans a larger speech on the oil tax "and the direction we need to go on this."

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