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Federal highway bill set to expire, Obama urges extension

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The White House said Obama wanted to push for the transportation bill extensions now in order to avoid a similar standoff again. 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.

(Photo: Heather Farrell)

Looking to take a different approach this time around, 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.

Republican reaction to Obama's push for the highway bill was swift, with a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner accusing the president of using irresponsible scare tactics.

"Aside from the president today, no one has suggested the highway bill will be allowed to expire," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said. "Republicans support an extension of the highway bill and appreciate the need for a long-term solution for infrastructure projects."

The push for infrastructure spending comes as Obama prepares to unveil a jobs package next week that mixes spending and tax breaks. The White House said Obama would make the case for his new initiatives Wednesday before a joint session of Congress.

The president's jobs package is expected to include some proposed spending on infrastructure and public works projects, investments that Obama said Wednesday are vital to nation's economy.

"We have to have a serious conversation about making real, lasting investments in infrastructure from better ports to a smarter electric grid to high speed rail," Obama said. "At a time when interest rates are low and workers are unemployed, the best time to make those investments is now, not once another levee fails or another bridge falls. Right now is when we need to be making these decisions."

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