President Obama appears ready to move past the politics of the sequester and move on to an issue he knows voters love — rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure.
Speaking at the Port of Miami Friday, the president gave a quick speech outlining the “Partnership to Rebuild America.” The proposal builds on ideas he presented in his State of the Union address to use federal spending to spur construction of roads, bridges and other public needs in order to create jobs.
“Let’s get started rebuilding America,” Obama said, after noting that his proposal is backed by both the Chamber of Commerce and the nation’s largest union, the AFL-CIO.
A recent Gallup poll found that 72 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, support spending federal money to create jobs.
“We still have all kinds of deferred maintenance. We still have all kinds of ports that aren’t equipped for today’s commerce. We’ve still got too many rail lines that are too slow and clogged up. We’ve still got too many roads that are in disrepair– too many roads that aren’t safe,” Obama said. “That congestion wastes time and money.”
The president’s speech followed his tour of the Port of Miami Tunnel, which he cited as an example of a partnership between local and state governments and the private sector that he’d like to encourage.
Outlining the Partnership to Rebuild America, he said it would set up a means of selecting the best projects to avoid wasteful spending. It would also establish “America Fast Forward” bonds to attract foreign and domestic investment in local infrastructure.
“We can’t afford Washington politics standing in the way of America’s progress,” Obama said, noting that “ultimately, Congress has to fund these projects.”
The proposals would cost $21 billion but would not add to the budget deficit, according to a White House aide.
“I know in Washington D.C. people like to argue. It gets them on TV,” the president said. But he again harkened to the popularity of what he’s proposing. “Building better roads and schools, that’s not a partisan idea.”
Notably, Governor Rick Scott (R) welcomed the president to his state as all Republican politicians must do — with an attack. But what was Scott calling Obama out for? Not sending enough infrastructure money to Florida.
What possibly stood out the most about the president’s speech is what he didn’t mention — the sequester.
Before his trip to Israel, Obama called up the automatic spending cuts in nearly every appearance he made. As the sequester took effect and the cuts were only evident to those directly impacted, Obama’s approval ratings declined from the highs he experienced after his re-election.
Spending cuts in their vaguest form are nearly as popular as rebuilding infrastructure. It turns out the sequester cuts are vague enough that the public is willing to absorb them. Or perhaps the Republican strategy of pinning the sequester on Obama, claiming the policy is a victory and attacking the specific cuts they don’t like, is working.
Regardless, the president has signed a continuing resolution that keeps the government funded with the sequester cuts in place. And he’s decided to move the discussion back to an issue the public understands and cheers — rebuilding America.