President Barack Obama proposed a $50 billion transportation spending program that he said would boost jobs in the construction, manufacturing and retail industries and help rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.
“Crumbling” roads, bridges, airports and rail lines are hindering U.S. economic growth, Obama said after meeting with members of his Cabinet, the governors of Pennsylvania and Delaware and a group of mayors from around the country.
“For years we have deferred tough decisions” on rebuilding transportation systems, Obama said, highlighting a report released by his administration on infrastructure improvements. “It should not take another collapsing bridge or failing levee to shock us into action.”
A report by the Treasury Department and White House Council of Economic Advisers said that about 90 percent of the new jobs in those three segments of the economy would fall in middle- class range. The construction industry, where unemployment exceeds 17 percent, would benefit the most with 61 percent of the jobs created. The unemployment rate is 9.6 percent nationally.
The infrastructure spending also will keep the U.S. competitive with other nations including China, which are investing in systems to move goods and information.
Obama, who proposed his plan last month in Milwaukee, said today that the European Union or China spends more on roads, rails and related projects than does the U.S.
“They’re creating jobs today, but they’re also playing to win tomorrow,” Obama said. “The bottom line is our shortsightedness has come due. We can no longer afford to sit still.”
Today’s White House meeting was called “to keep the momentum and the drumbeat going, so when Congress comes back, hopefully one of their priorities will be $50 billion, and then next year, the six-year plan” of about $500 billion, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters after Obama’s statement.
Even if Republicans gain seats in the Nov. 2 election, the White House is counting on a bipartisan support for a reauthorization of transportation spending legislation next year. LaHood said talks about the exact size and shape of the measure are under way.
“The tradition of Congress is to work in a bipartisan way” on transportation, said LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois. “This will be paid for; this will not be put on the debt.”
Asked about skepticism about the value of $48 billion in public works programs in the stimulus package, LaHood was blunt.
“The idea that stimulus didn’t work is nonsense,” he said.
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