"I think I had a little bit of a lead foot," he joked later, noting that he hasn't driven a real car in six years. "It got me a little queasy."
Obama had another strange moment later when a last-ditch
The House plan, which passed 367 to 55, would provide $10.8 billion to replenish, until May, the Highway Trust Fund, which is on track to run out of money Aug. 1. A longer-term funding source is still elusive, as are most goals on Obama's legislative agenda.
With Republicans and Democrats bitterly divided over how to pay for things, even the long-standing bipartisan tradition of filling potholes has become a challenge.
The political dispute is not about the highway projects, which members of
Its primary funding source, a tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, hasn't been raised since 1993. If it was adjusted for inflation, the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax would need to be 29 cents per gallon today to have the same purchasing power, according to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. Moreover, gas tax revenues have fallen as vehicles have become more fuel-efficient.
The White House proposes to inject billions of dollars from corporate tax reform, an idea with some support but little chance of moving forward this year. Republicans refuse to consider any increase in fuel taxes, but few have identified other possible funding sources.
The tussle this year raised fears of a "transportation
The House plan would prevent that, but neither side seemed especially pleased.
During his tour of the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in McLean, Va., Obama critiqued the House plan as "kicking the can down the road for a few months, careening from crisis to crisis when it comes to something as basic as our infrastructure."
The conservative group Heritage Action for America similarly derided the House plan as "chock-full of gimmicks and revenue raisers." No one, said spokesman Dan Holler, thinks the stopgap measure "represents good policy."
In recent months, Rep.
Major tax reform is unlikely in an era of legislative gridlock, so the House found another source. The $10.8 billion would come from a provision allowing some companies to defer some payments to employee pension funds, thereby increasing taxable profits in the short term.
"If the president has a plan for a longer-term highway bill, he ought to get the Democratic-controlled Senate to pass it and we'll take a look at it," Boehner said. "But until then, giving speeches about a long-term highway bill is frankly just more rhetoric."
Senate Democrats appeared resigned to accepting the GOP plan. Majority Leader
"There's pretty broad bipartisan agreement that there's not going to be a magic funding source that's going to grow out of a tree between now and next spring," said Sen.
Obama, meanwhile seemed more excited about the black Saturn simulator than the highway bill's passing the GOP-controlled House. He climbed in and grabbed the wheel in front of a video screen that showed cars and trucks whizzing by.
"They are finally letting me drive again," he said. "Man, this is so exciting. I haven't been on the road in a long time."