The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday called on Congress to act more boldly to pass a new long-term transportation funding bill, saying President Obama’s plea for another interim extension doesn’t go far enough to address pressing infrastructure and jobs needs.
“This isn't going to happen, but the right thing to do is pass a long-term bill,” Chamber President Tom Donohue told a White House jobs panel at Southern Methodist University. “We ought to just damn do it, because that's going to send a message.”
Donohue said another short-term extension of the transportation bill that is due to expire Sept. 30 would leave efforts to pass a multi-year measure lost on the legislative calendar as Congress turns back to the federal debt.
"I am concerned about doing a short-term bill and then doing a long-term bill, because if you look at what is going to happen between now and the first of the year, we're going to have [the debt super committee and] it's going to be very hard to get airtime in Congress."
Donohue's comments to the President's Council on Competitiveness and Jobs, came a day after the Chamber joined the Obama administration and union groups in calling for Congress to extend the transportation funding bill.
He also renewed the Chamber’s support for increasing the federal tax on gasoline for the first time since 1993.
"We haven't increased the federal fuel tax in 18-and-a-half years," Donohue said. "We ought to do it because that will put the incremental money into the system paid for by the users."
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the Obama administration opposes any increase in the gas tax with high unemployment and sluggish economic activity.
"With a very bad economy and unemployment at 9%, it is very difficult for the president to propose an increase in the gas tax when people are hurting," said LaHood, who also attended the event. "This very bad time to be talking to people, many who have been unemployed for a long time, to talk about raising the gas tax."
In an interview following the panel, Donohue said that increasing the gas tax "by a nickel a year for four years or five years" would allow for the government to push transportation projects without minimal economic impact.
But he acknowledged that such a proposal was politically difficult, saying that he has seen opposition to the idea within his own organization.
"I don't think we're going to get it done right now, but just I keep talking about it, because sooner or later people are going to go through all the other ways that they think they're going to fund this and they're going to come back to the gas tax," he said.