President Barack Obama has unveiled a plan to boost a lackluster U.S. economy by improving and expanding America's aging transportation infrastructure. An energetic and combative-sounding Mr. Obama spoke on Monday at Labor Day holiday observances in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Like many Midwestern states that once formed the heart of America's manufacturing region, Wisconsin was hit hard by the economic recession and continues to suffer double-digit unemployment.
At an event that had the feel of a campaign rally, President Obama told U.S. labor leaders and union members that tough economic times continue despite his administration's efforts at job creation.
"Eight million Americans lost their jobs in this recession," said President Obama. "And while we've had eight straight months of private sector job growth, the new jobs haven't been coming fast enough. Now, the plain truth is, there's no silver bullet or quick fix to the problem."
But Mr. Obama said there are ways to help. The president noted that his administration already has championed financial and health care reform, and that it has worked to make higher education more affordable and to lower taxes for all but the wealthiest Americans. The goal, he said, is to bolster an embattled and overburdened U.S. middle class.
Mr. Obama noted that the massive economic stimulus program enacted at the start of his administration has funded thousands of public works projects around the country. Now, he said, is the time to launch an even more ambitious plan.
"Over the next six years, we are going to rebuild 150,000 miles [240,000 kilometers] of our roads - enough to circle the world six times," said Mr. Obama. "We're going to lay and maintain 4,000 miles [6,400 kilometers] of our railways - enough to stretch coast-to-coast. We're going to restore 150 miles [240 kilometers] of runways and advance a 'next generation' [global positioning system-based] air traffic control system to reduce travel time and delays for American travelers."
Administration officials say the plan will require an initial outlay of $50 billion. The president pledged that the cost will not add to the nation's already-staggering federal budget deficit, but he did not specify program cuts or tax increases to pay for it.
Even if Congress moved quickly to pass the plan, administration officials concede that new jobs would not be created until next year - well after this year's congressional elections. Analysts say that weak economic growth and stubbornly-high unemployment rates are fueling growing expectations that the president's Democratic Party could suffer massive losses in November's midterm vote.
Republicans have branded Mr. Obama's economic stewardship a fiasco. They criticized the president's infrastructure initiative hours before he formally announced it.
House Republican leader John Boehner said the plan provides more government stimulus spending that has already proven to be a failure, and that less government intrusion in the economy is needed, not more.
But a smiling and self-confident-sounding President Obama said it is Republicans who want to resurrect policies that led to the financial crisis and the deepest recession of the post-World War II era.
"They [Republicans] figure you are going to forget what their agenda did to this country," said the president. "They think you will believe that they have changed. These are the folks whose policies helped devastate our middle class. They drove our economy into a ditch."
The president's speech appeared to confirm what analysts have predicted - that the economy will be the central battleground of the electoral season, which now looks to be in full swing.
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