Obama urges Congress to pass transportation bill
(AP, ABC7) - Pressing for passage of the transportation piece of his stalled jobs bill, President Barack Obama on Wednesday suggested lawmakers are out of touch and urged them to fall in line with the big majority of the public that he said supports him.
Obama said the nation's aging transportation network costs U.S. businesses and families about $130 billion a year. Failing to upgrade the network could cost the U.S. hundreds of billions dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs by the end of the decade, he said.
Twenty percent of Washington-area construction workers are jobless and many more are under-employed.
“A lot of guys, women like myself have families. We can't pay bills if we're not working,” said Claudette Hendricks, an unemployed welder.
Heavy police presence shut down the Whitehurst Freeway and beefed up security.
The Senate planned to vote Thursday on whether to take up the measure - $50 billion for road, bridge and other repairs and $10 billion to attract private money to help finance such projects.
Like his jobs proposals, this piece is expected to be unanimously opposed by Republicans and a few Democrats who object to any new spending and to the president's plan for a new tax on the wealthy to help pay for it.
Obama said the public is on his side and that lawmakers will have to answer to their constituents if they don't pass it.
"There's no good reason to oppose this bill. Not one," he said at the foot of the Key Bridge, which connects the District of Columbia and Arlington, Va.
The government has identified the bridge as in need of the type of crucial repair and maintenance that Obama says his bill would help finance.
"Members of Congress who do, who vote no, are going to have to explain why to their constituencies," Obama said. "The American people are with me with this. And it's time for folks running around spending all their time talking about what's wrong with America to spend some time rolling up their sleeves to help us make it right."
He also tried to shame the Republican-controlled House by accusing its leaders of wasting time during a jobs crisis with debates over commemorative baseball coins and reaffirming "In God We Trust" as the country's motto. The House has refused to consider Obama's jobs bill.
"That's not putting people back to work," Obama said. "I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work. There's work to be done. There are workers ready to do it. The American people are behind this."
Obama said the spending on transportation would help get some of the more than 1 million unemployed construction workers back on the job.
A House Republican aide said not even 20 minutes were devoted to the baseball coins and U.S. motto. The aide also noted that more than a dozen House-passed bills to create jobs by reducing regulations and altering tax laws are awaiting action in the Democratic-led Senate.
Republicans also scoff at Obama's constant calls for his jobs measures to be passed "right now." In the case of the transportation bill, a recent Congressional Budget Office report determined that more of the $50 billion would be spent in 2017 than in the current budget year.
Obama singled out House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as well as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the GOP's point person on the budget.
In one example, he said, "I can't imagine that Speaker Boehner wants to represent a state where nearly 1 in 4 bridges is classified as substandard. I'm sure that the speaker of the House would want to have bridges and roads in his state that are up to par."
After the Senate blocked Obama's larger $447 billion jobs bill last month, the White House announced that it would seek individual votes on the measure's parts. That helps exert political pressure on Republicans sensitive about their own jobs agenda, which so far has centered on relaxing regulations and on undoing a new rule that requires the government to withhold 3 percent of payments to federal contractors.