WASHINGTON — President Obama on Monday called for a $50-billion
surge in spending on the nation's roads, runways and railroads, his
latest effort to respond to the stubbornly sluggish economy in a
political climate turning against his party.
Speaking at a union-organized rally in Milwaukee, the president said his proposal would put construction workers back to work and rebuild deteriorating infrastructure.
"It's a plan that says, even in the aftermath of the
worst recession in our lifetimes, America can still shape our own
destiny, we can still move this country forward, we can still leave our
children something better — something that lasts," the president said,
in a campaign-style speech that sought to make the case for his
The Labor Day speech came as
Democratic candidates were launching the final leg of their campaigns
and, in many cases, facing a harsh assessment from voters frustrated by
the pace of economic recovery. Polls show voters feel uneasy about the
economy, unhappy with the rising deficits and willing to give
Republican policies a try.
The White House will use this week to
show it is reacting to that climate. The infrastructure plan was slated
to be the first in a series of proposals unveiled by the president,
although experts have cast doubt on whether the administration can do
much to improve the job market before November.
Senior administration officials on Monday declined
to make predictions about how many job could be created by the
infrastructure plan. They said only that they expected results next
They resisted describing the $50-billion proposal as a stimulus measure, instead casting it as part of a six-year transportation plan to be put before Congress in the fall. The bill would be "front-loaded" to spend money quickly in hopes of creating jobs in the short term, they said.
The officials declined to put a dollar figure on the
total amount of new spending in the transportation proposal, saying
only that the $50 billion would be a significant percentage of the overall increase. The White House hoped to cover the costs by closing a series of tax breaks for oil and gas companies, they said.
"This is a plan that will be fully paid for and will not add to the deficit over time," Obama said. "We're going to work with Congress to see to that."
Still, it is unclear whether Congress
will have the appetite for another major spending bill. Congressional
Democrats have spent much of this campaign season defending themselves
against Republican charges of wasteful and unnecessary spending that
has ballooned the deficit with few results. An $814-billion stimulus package passed last year has not proven to be popular, particularly with independent and fiscally conservative voters.
On Monday, Republican Whip Eric Cantor quickly sought to label Obama's plan as more of the same.
"Today the president will use the Labor Day
holiday as the launching pad for yet another government stimulus
effort, another play called from the same failed Keynesian playbook,"
Cantor said in a statement released before Obama announced his plan in Milwaukee. "More government stimulus does nothing to end this cloud of uncertainty."
The $50-billion plan outlined Monday
amounted to roughly half of what was allocated to infrastructure in
last year's stimulus package. Officials said the proposal project would
build on the work already begun.
The initial spending would be used to build or
repair 150,000 miles of road, 4,000 miles of railways and 150 miles of
airport runways, as well as to support a modernization of the
The president also planned to call for the creation
of an infrastructure bank that would leverage funding for projects that
reached a regional or national scale. Over the next several years, the
plan would continue funding for high-speed rail, consolidating more
than 100 small programs, and prioritize investments in projects that
lower greenhouse-gas admissions and reduce oil consumption.
The plan was proposed as the unemployment rate stood at 9.6 percent and the economy continued to lose jobs, according to a Labor Department report issued last week.
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