Image: Barack Obama, Ray LeHood, David C. Chavern
Carolyn Kaster  /  AP
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, left, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Chief Operating Officer David Chavern, speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011, to urge Congress to pass a federal highway bill.
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updated 8/31/2011 3:13:01 PM ET 2011-08-31T19:13:01

Warning of dire consequences for the nation's workers, President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged Congress to extend bills to fund highways and air travel that he said would protect a million jobs.

"For construction workers and their families across the country, it represents the difference between making ends meet or not making ends meet," Obama said during a speech in the Rose Garden.

The federal highway spending bill at issue expires Sept. 30. A Senate proposal would last only two years and cost $109 billion, while the House is considering a longer, six-year bill that could cut spending from current levels.

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The president said 4,000 workers would be immediately furloughed without pay if the bill is not extended, and a significant delay could lead to 1 million workers losing their job over the next year.

"All of them will be out of a job just because of politics in Washington," Obama said. "That's just not acceptable. It's inexcusable."

Obama also called on lawmakers to pass a clean extension of a bill to fund the Federal Aviation Administration before it expires in mid-September. The FAA was already partially shut down for two weeks this summer, because lawmakers couldn't agree to an extension in time.

While Congress ultimately reached an agreement, the partial shutdown affected tens of thousands of workers and cost the government about $30 million a day.

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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.

Looking to take a different approach this time, 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.

"You cannot take for granted that the things that had bipartisan support will have it going forward," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.

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.

Video: Chuck's First Read: POTUS, Perry, and Palin (on this page)

"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 the 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."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Chuck's First Read: POTUS, Perry, and Palin

  1. Closed captioning of: Chuck's First Read: POTUS, Perry, and Palin

    >>> to the first reads of the morning. we will start with the newest battleground in washington's budget war. hurricane irene is likely to be one of the ten most expensive disasters in the nation's history. fema, though, is running out of money. there is a temporary halt from long-term building projects, and in one week virginia was hit by an earthquake and hurricane.

    >> those monies are not unlimit unlimited. what we said, we offset that which has already been funded. just like any family would operate when struck with disaster. it finds the money it needs to to take care of a loved one and then puts on hold buying a new car or anything else.

    >> and we asked what the message congress should be hearing?

    >> this is a question that is best left to the appropriators, and to those that deal with these issues. in this country, americans have always come to the aid of other americans in a crisis and disaster. that's our job. that's what we do. that's who we are. fema is doing its job.

    >> fema politics. be very careful, politicians, playing politics with fema. it's a tough thing to do. you understand why eric cantor said what he said, he doesn't want to be a hypocrite, and that said, do house republicans want to pick a fight with say, new jersey governor chris christie . and that's something to watch for in the next couple of weeks.

    >>> for months mitt romney straty has been a noun, a verb, and obama made the economy worst. in the speech yesterday romney made a not-so-veiled swipe.

    >> now, i am a conservative businessman. i spent most of my life outside politics dealing with real problems in the real economy . career politicians got us into this mess, and they simply don't know how to get us out.

    >> starting to wonder if he is going to ask us not to call him governor romney anymore. and he is changing his labor day schedule. demint supported romney . conservative businessman, i have been in the private sector. it is subtle and has been building for weeks but now you see the shift. the romney campaign said we will engage more as the race heats up, but he cannot let perry go out there on his own, and that's what will happen in the demint form. he was seeding south carolina , and seeding jim demint who was gettable. strategically they decided that was not something they would do.

    >>> sarah palin , is not only headed to iowa but to the primary state on monday. the last time she was in the granite state was in june. she stepped on romney 's new hampshire debut. romney appears at the tea party event the night before. and then there's the on again off again mess in iowa where palin will appear on a tea party rally on saturday. and senate candidate, o'donnell was invited to speak with palin, and then the invitation was withdrawn. and then she tweeted this. i am told things changed on their end and i will not be speaking but now organizers say she will be speaking, and o'donnell tweeted that she was re-invited and re-accepted.

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