Saying the United States lags behind China and other nations in dealing with a crumbling infrastructure, President Barack Obama has renewed a call for action to repair roads, bridges and airports.
A new report by the Treasury Department and White House Council of Economic Advisers says the United States now spends two percent of its Gross Domestic Product on infrastructure, with overall spending falling by 50 percent since 1960.
In contrast, it notes China spends about nine percent on infrastructure, and Europe about five percent. It is clear, the report states, that persistent neglect will affect America's competitive position with the rest of the world.
President Obama met for about an hour with key state governors, city mayors and Cabinet officials. In the White House Rose Garden, he spoke about the consequences of "woefully inefficient and outdated" infrastructure for current and future economic growth.
"The bottom line is our short-sightedness has come due. We can no longer afford to sit still. What we need is a smart system of infrastructure equal to the needs of the 21st century, a system that encourages sustainable communities with easier access to our jobs, to our schools, to our homes."
In September, the president asked Congress for an initial $50 billion to begin a six-year plan of infrastructure upgrades, spending he insists will be offset by ending a collection of oil and gas industry tax breaks.
But legislative action will have to wait until Congress returns after the November 2 midterm elections, at which point one or both chambers could be controlled by Republicans, who have sharply criticized Obama's stimulus spending.
Saying "there is no reason why the world's best infrastructure should lie beyond U.S. borders," Mr. Obama cited examples of other countries, including China, that he said are recognizing the importance of investing today for tomorrow.
"Right now China is building hundreds of thousands of miles of new roads. Over the next 10 years it plans to build dozens of new airports. Over the next 20 it could build as many as 170 new mass transit systems. Everywhere else they are thinking big, they are creating jobs today, but they are also planning to win tomorrow," said President Obama.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican, voiced optimism about prospects for bipartisan cooperation when Congress returns. He also lashed out at critics of Obama economic stimulus.
"There [are] thousands of people working, 14,000 projects today. The idea that our stimulus did not work is nonsense," said LaHood.
A separate recent study contained recommendations similar to the Obama administration report, and it estimated the federal government, plus state and local governments, would have to spend as much as $194 billion simply to repair existing infrastructure.
President Obama said the United States had deferred decisions on repairing aging highways, rail lines and other infrastructure for years, hindering economic growth. He also indirectly linked the issue with the upcoming congressional elections, saying Americans face a choice between decline and prosperity, and between the past and the future.