Obama Urges Support for Republican Highway Fund Bill

The Obama administration urged Congress to move forward with a Republican-led proposal to shore up the U.S. Highway Trust Fund through May 2015.

The legislation in the House of Representatives would provide financial continuity “during the height of the summer construction season and keep Americans at work repairing the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, and transit systems,” the administration said in a statement today. The legislation is scheduled for a vote tomorrow.

The support from President Barack Obama, a Democrat, may help resolve a dispute in Congress over how to pay for a short-term patch of the trust fund, which is needed to buy time to negotiate a long-term plan. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has said that without an agreement in Congress, federal payments to states will begin to slow as soon as Aug. 1.

Separate bills approved by the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees last week would provide almost $11 billion to avoid a shortfall next month. While both measures are financed by higher customs fees and by letting companies delay contributions to employee pension plans, the Senate’s version includes $3.4 billion in Democratic-drafted tax compliance changes that risk holding up a final agreement between lawmakers.

Earlier today, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden backed the tax compliance provisions.

“If you don’t go after tax compliance issues now that ought to be pretty low-hanging fruit, how do you show that you have the strength and the kind of fortitude to go after these bigger ones?” the Oregon Democrat said in an interview with editors and reporters at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York.

Lawmakers haven’t been able to bridge a years-long divide over how to boost revenue to pay for a long-term transportation measure, as current methods for financing, namely gasoline and diesel-fuel taxes, haven’t kept up with the pace of projects.

With weeks to go, they’re coalescing around a short-term fix.

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