President Barack Obama dedicated most of this past to domestic policy specifically highlighting infrastructure and transportation, and he spent he weekly address released on Saturday morning, May 17, 2014 entitled "Working When Congress Won't Act" primarily about transportation infrastructure, and Congress unwillingness to pass his transportation bill. President Obama has been linking his transportation bill, with job creation and a message that he will continue taking executive action to improve the economy when Congress does not. Obama combined those messages again earlier in the week on Wednesday, May 14 when he spoke about infrastructure in Tarrytown, New York in front of the Tappan Zee Bridge, and site of a new bridge project,
This August the money in the Highway Trust Fund for infrastructure project will run dry, and Congress needs to pass legislation for refunding. Infrastructure consisting of road, bridge, ports, railways, and airport projects are a major sources of jobs with 700, 000 Americans working on 112,000 road and 5,600 transit projects. If Congress does not pass a bill before the fall all the projects would stop and the workers would be out of work. President Obama emphasized this in his weekly address, saying; "Here's the problem: If Congress doesn't act by the end of this summer, federal funding for transportation projects will run out. States might have to put some of their projects on hold. In fact, some already are, because they're worried Congress won't clear up its own gridlock. And if Congress fails to act, nearly 700,000 jobs would be at risk over the next year."
President Obama is looking for Congress to pass his transportation bill entitled "Grow America Act" he submitted on April 29. The bill will allot $302 billion for four years of infrastructure projects, and is paid for by cutting corporate tax cuts and loopholes for companies that outsource jobs. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx issued a statement after submitting the bill, saying; "Failing to act before the Highway Trust Fund runs out is unacceptable - and unaffordable. This proposal offers the kind of job creation and certainty that the American people want and deserve." In his address Obama praised the bill he submitted to Congress, explaining; "That's why I put forward a plan to rebuild our transportation infrastructure in a more responsible way. It would support millions of jobs across the country. And we'd pay for it without adding to the deficit by closing wasteful tax loopholes for companies that ship jobs overseas."
Those tax cuts are opposed by the Republicans, and the president's proposal and absolutely no chance of getting passed. The Senate is working on their own bill co-sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer, D-CA and David Vitter, R-La., the chair and ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. This six-year bill lasting until 2020 will cost $265 billion takes into account inflation, and has bipartisan support already passed the committee stage, however, it does not include revenue to pay for it, that is something that that would have be determined.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report analyzing the effects of the Senate's plan to renew MAP-21 - the federal transportation bill. They concluded that infrastructure projects are costing the government more that then the revenue they are taking in from the projects. CBS news explains that according CBO's report it would "cost almost $100 billion just to keep up with the current spending levels on road and transit projects."
Obama criticized the GOP's opposition to his bill, and the contents of their rivaling infrastructure bill, stating; "Now, the Republicans in Congress seem to have very different priorities. Not only have they neglected to prevent this funding from running out, their proposal would actually cut by 80% a job-creating grant program that has funded high-priority transportation projects in all 50 states." Obama said that the GOP find passing tax breaks for the wealthy a more important priority than jobs for the middle class.
Obama spoke on Wednesday, May 14 at the Washington Irving Boat Club in Tarrytown, New York in front of the Tappan Zee Bridge, which is 58 years old; because of his executive action a new bridge is being built to replace this old one. Obama spoke there to emphasize the job creation and important and needed infrastructure project that resulted from his executive action. Obama touched on the same topics in both his speech and weekly address on infrastructure. In his 10-minute speech in Tarrytown, Obama discussed the how much infrastructure contributes to the economy, the number of jobs that depend on those construction projects continuing. The president indicated that European and Asian countries emphasize infrastructure more than the U.S., and those modern systems attracts companies and investments, improving, growing and building the economy at the same time that is why it is such an important investment.
President Obama has focused on making 2014 a year of economic action, and he highlighted the executive action he took in 2011, which fast racked the "permitting process for major projects." Obama reiterated his economic tagline for the year, saying in his address that "while Congress decides what it's going to do, I'll keep doing what I can on my own." The president also announced in Tarrytown a "new plan to cut red tape and speed up the process for even more projects across the country."
The plan extends the fast-tracking program, including adding 11 additional projects. Obama explained the program, announcing; "We're cutting bureaucratic red tape that stalls good projects from breaking ground. We're launching a new national permitting center to implement these reforms. We are aiming to put every major infrastructure project on a public dashboard so everybody can go online; track our progress; hold us accountable; make sure things are coming in on time, on budget; make sure your taxpayer money is being used well, but also make sure that we're putting folks back to work rebuilding America."
There is one problem no matter how many executive actions President Obama takes he realizes he still needs Congress to pass the transportation bill. In his weekly address Obama acknowledged; "All these steps will make it easier for businesses to invest in America and create more good jobs. All of them can be done without Congress. But we could do a lot more if Congress was willing to help."
In Tarrytown, Obama complained about the Republicans' transportation bill and that the fact the GOP will not pass his plan, saying; "So far at least Republicans who run this Congress seem to have a different priority." Obama does not think the Republicans should be making infrastructure a partisan issue, pointing out that "Rebuilding America - that shouldn't be a partisan issue." President Obama recounted the presidents in history, who have emphasized infrastructure including; Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan, who he quoted as saying; "an investment in tomorrow that we must make today." Obama then questioned; "Since when are the Republicans in Congress against Ronald Reagan?"
President Obama believes partisanship has become too much of an interference, that Congress forgets the priorities doing what is best for the country; "But that's part of the problem -- we've gotten so partisan, everything is becoming political… It's time for folks to stop running around saying what's wrong with America; roll up your sleeves and let's get to work and help America rebuild. That's what we should be doing." Bringing up his famous and successful campaign slogan, Obama declared; "We don't need a "can't do" spirit; we need a "can do" spirit… A great nation does these things. A great nation doesn't say "no, we can't," it says "yes, we can."
The issue with the refunding infrastructure is not the need to refund, but the method, Obama realizes; "we need Congress to work with us on these issues." He advised Congress that "It doesn't mean they're going to agree with us on everything. I guarantee you they will have more than enough to disagree with me about, but let's not fight on something we all know makes sense."
President Obama specifically promised in regard to infrastructure that "I'm going to keep on fighting alongside all of you to make sure that we're doing everything we can to rebuild America -- not just rebuild one bridge, but I want us to rebuild every bridge." Concluding, his weekly address as he did his speech in Tarrytown, Obama pledged to always step up and sign as many executive actions he can to help the economy when Congress does not referring to his economic opportunity program; "In the meantime, I'll do whatever I can - not just to make America a better place to do business, but to make sure hard work pays off, and opportunity is open to all."
- President Barack Obama's Weekly Address: Working When Congress Won’t Act, May 17, 2014 -- Transcript | mp4 | mp3
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections