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Obama warns of economic hit if transport bill not passed

By Jeff Mason and John Crawley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama urged lawmakers in the House of Representatives to pass a bill that would extend funding for infrastructure and transportation projects, warning that failure to do so would hurt U.S. economic recovery.

The U.S. Senate recently passed a transportation bill, but a similar measure is stalled in the House.

"In a matter of days, funding will stop for all sorts of transportation projects. Construction sites will go idle. Workers will have to go home. And our economy will take a hit," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address, broadcast on Saturday.

"This Congress cannot let that happen. Not at a time when we should be doing everything in our power - Democrats and Republicans - to keep this recovery moving forward."

Obama noted that 52 Democrats and 22 Republicans had supported the Senate version.

"Now it's up to the House to follow suit; to put aside partisan posturing, end the gridlock and do what's right for the American people," he said.

House Republicans say they want measures included in the bill to address rising energy costs.

The previous multi-year U.S. transportation law expired in September 2009. Since then, programs that fund road, bridge and transit projects and gas tax collections have been kept alive by a series of temporary extensions.

With long-term transportation legislation stalled for now, House Republican leaders plan another temporary extension of federal highway and transit funding that would keep construction projects and gas tax collections on track.

Gas tax receipts that flow into a trust fund are the main source of revenue for those construction programs.

The five-year, $260 billion transportation proposal has gone nowhere in the House because of its cost and controversial transit financing and energy provisions pushed by Republicans.

"The problem with the Senate bill is that it doesn't address the issue of rising gas prices and energy," Republican House Speaker John Boehner said earlier this week. "We believe that if we are going to reauthorize the highway bill, American energy production ought to be a critical part of this."

Many lawmakers consider a long-term transportation plan an important election-year priority considering billions of dollars in capital works spending and the millions of job associated with highway and transit construction.

(Additional reporting by John Crawley; editing by Todd Eastham)

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