MILWAUKEE – A combative President Barack Obama rolled out a long-term jobs program Monday that would exceed $50 billion to rebuild roads, railways and runways, and coupled it with a blunt campaign-season assault on Republicans for causing Americans’ hard economic times.
GOP leaders instantly assailed Obama’s proposal as an ineffective one that would simply raise already excessive federal spending. Many congressional Democrats are also likely to be reluctant to boost expenditures and increase federal deficits just weeks before elections.
Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, cautioned, “If we are going to get anything done, Republican cooperation, which has been all but non-existent recently, will be necessary.”
That left the plan with low odds of becoming law this year. When Congress returns from summer recess in mid-September, it is likely to remain in session for only a few weeks before lawmakers return home to campaign for re-election.
Administration officials said that even if Congress quickly approved the program, it would not produce jobs until sometime next year. That means the proposal’s only pre-election impact may be a political one as the White House tries to demonstrate to voters that it is working to boost the economy and create jobs.
At a Labor Day speech in Milwaukee, Obama said Republicans are betting that between now and the Nov. 2 elections, Americans will forget the Republican economic policies that led to the recession. He said Republicans have opposed virtually everything he has done to help the economy and have proposed solutions that have only made the problem worse.
“That philosophy didn’t work out so well for middle-class families all across America,” Obama told a cheering crowd at a labor gathering. “It didn’t work out so well for our country. All it did was rack up record deficits and result in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”
He said Republicans have consistently opposed his economic proposals and seem to be running on a slogan of “No, we can’t.”
Republicans made clear that Obama should not expect any help from them.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the plan “should be met with justifiable skepticism.” He said it would raise taxes while Americans are “still looking for the ‘shovel-ready’ jobs they were promised more than a year ago” in the $814 billion economic stimulus measure.
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio added “We don’t need more government ‘stimulus’ spending. We need to end Washington Democrats’ out-of-control spending spree, stop their tax hikes and create jobs by eliminating the job-killing uncertainty that is hampering our small businesses.”
Administration officials are hunting broadly for ways to revive the economy. But they are likely to drop a separate proposal to renew a law exempting companies from paying Social Security taxes on any unemployed workers they hire, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision was not final.
Obama took a populist tack in his speech, mixing attacks on Republicans with praise for working-class and middle-class Americans.
He said he’d “keep fighting, every single day, every single hour, every single minute to turn this economy around.” He said interest groups he has battled “talk about me like a dog.”
He also acknowledged that the past eight months of modest private-sector job growth hasn’t been enough to bring down the unemployment rate. He said economic problems facing families today are “more serious than ever,” and seemed to ask the audience in Milwaukee – and voters nationwide – for patience.
“Now here’s the honest truth, the plain truth: There’s no silver bullet, there’s no quick fix to these problems,” he said, adding that it will take time to “reverse the damage of a decade worth of policies” that caused the recession.
Administration officials said the transportation plan’s initial $50 billion would be the beginning of a six-year program of transportation improvements, but they did not give an overall figure. The proposal has a longer-range focus than last year’s economic stimulus bill, which was more targeted on immediate job creation.
The plan calls for rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads, building and maintaining 4,000 miles of rail lines and 150 miles of airport runways, and installing a new air navigation system to reduce travel times and delays.
Obama also called for a permanent funding mechanism, an infrastructure bank, to focus on paying for national and regional infrastructure projects. Officials provided few details of how the bank would work.
Obama said the proposal would be fully paid for. In an earlier briefing for reporters, administration officials said Obama would pay for the program by asking lawmakers to close tax breaks for oil and gas companies and multinational corporations.