* "Let's rebuild this country," president says
* Unclear if Congress will support proposals
By Jeff Mason
MIAMI, March 29 President Barack Obama walked
into the mouth of a giant tunnel in Miami on Friday to highlight
proposals to boost investment in U.S. infrastructure, a move
designed to show a leader still focused on the economy in the
midst of broader policy battles in Washington.
Obama's tour of the Port of Miami tunnel project and a
subsequent speech were aimed at convincing members of the U.S.
Congress to back proposals that would leverage taxpayer dollars
into funds to rebuild American roads, bridges and other
"My main message is, let's get this done," he said. "Let's
rebuild this country that we love."
Obama, as he has in the past, said he wanted to develop a
national infrastructure bank and capitalize it with $10 billion.
The idea is to pull in private-sector funding and pick projects
based on merit.
He would also create "America Fast Forward Bonds" that would
help state and local governments attract money for
infrastructure projects. These would be direct subsidy bonds in
which the issuer would receive a 28 percent subsidy of the
borrowing cost as a way of attracting a wider set of investors.
In addition, Obama would add $4 billion to support two
programs that are used to provide grants for infrastructure
projects like the Miami tunnel.
It is unclear how far the proposals will go in Congress.
Republicans are reluctant to support what they consider
government stimulus spending after a much criticized $787
billion stimulus plan that Obama managed to push through
Congress in 2009.
Florida's Republican governor, Rick Scott, said his state
has been able to improve the Florida economy without
"In Florida, we've managed to grow jobs by cutting taxes,
paying down debt and balancing the budget - a stark contrast to
the ways of Washington," he said.
Obama noted that some people on both sides of the political
spectrum, such as labor unions and the Chamber of Commerce, had
supported his infrastructure ideas.
"Building bridges and schools, that's not a partisan idea,"
Obama was criticized in his first term for focusing too much
on his signature policy goal of revamping the U.S. healthcare
system, which critics said resulted in him giving less attention
to the slow economic recovery.
The White House rejects that charge.
Since his re-election in November and his January
inauguration, Obama has steered a policy push focused primarily
on passing both immigration reform and tighter gun control
However, his State of the Union address in February included
a series of measures to boost the economy, and the Florida trip
fleshed out some of those ideas.
Alan Krueger, Obama's chief economist, told reporters
traveling with the president on Air Force One that the three
main proposals outlined by Obama would cost some $21 billion but
that cuts would be made elsewhere to avoid increasing the budget
Obama's fiscal 2014 budget proposal, which will be released
on April 10, would spell out how they are paid for, he said. All
of the proposals require congressional approval.
Although Obama will not run for re-election again, Florida
is still important for him and his fellow Democrats. The
political swing state backed the president in 2012 and will be
critical to determining whether a Democrat holds on to the White
House or whether a Republican recaptures it in 2016.
The White House believes an increase in infrastructure
investment would make the United States more competitive while
providing a boost to the construction industry, which is still
suffering high levels of unemployment.