President Barack Obama on Monday lobbied for Republican support from Capitol Hill for a burst of spending on transportation projects, calling his proposal a jobs creator for the middle class and an overdue investment in the country's foundation.
"There's no reason why we can't do this," Obama said in a brief Rose Garden event. "There's no reason why the world's best infrastructure should lie beyond our borders. This is America. We've always had the best infrastructure ... All we need is the political will."
Obama is proposing a $50 billion plan as an initial step toward a six-year program of transportation programs. It calls for building, fixing or maintaining thousands of miles of roads, rail lines and airport runways, along with installing a new air navigation system to reduce travel delays, and other projects.
The president unveiled the idea over Labor Day. Monday's event amounted to another chance to promote it. The president met privately with governors, mayors, transportation officials and Cabinet secretaries and then stood with some of them before the cameras as he made his case.
The timing also comes as Obama is eager to show action on the sluggish economy just ahead of the Nov. 2 congressional elections, with his party in jeopardy of losing a sizable number of seats in the House and Senate. Obama asked for Republican support, saying infrastructure work typically draws bipartisan support. But such cooperation seems unlikely in the current partisan atmosphere.
The economy continues to dominate public concern. The public sector slashed 159,000 jobs in September, including the largest cuts by local governments in 28 years. Obama said his program would boost employment right away and help make up for what he called years of costly inattention to the country's infrastructure.
"Everywhere else, they're thinking big. They're creating jobs today, but they're also playing to win tomorrow," Obama said of some of the top economic competitors to the United States. "So the bottom line is our shortsightedness has come due. We can no longer afford to sit still."
The administration released a new analysis of Obama's plan that said it would particularly help with middle-class jobs in construction, manufacturing and retail.