WASHINGTON -- Appealing to a union crowd on Labor Day, President Obama on Monday is calling for a $50 billion investment in long-term infrastructure projects that the administration claims will stimulate the flailing economy, create jobs and refill the exhausted highway trust fund.
Though the infrastructure package is aimed at the next six years, the investment of $50 billion is intended to be a "front-loaded" expansion of the $814 billion stimulus package that emphasized shovel-ready projects.
"The plan builds upon the infrastructure investments the president has already made through the Recovery Act, includes principles the president put forth during the campaign and emphasizes American competitiveness and innovation," reads a statement from the White House press office.
Congress has no appetite to enact a second stimulus and the White House insists that it will not seek one. But through a series of separate measures to be rolled out by the president this week, including a $100 billion research and development tax credit, a hiring incentives package for small- and medium-sized business and a $42 billion small business package already saddling the Senate, the tally is adding up quickly.
"This is a 'hail Mary' pass President Obama is throwing," said Ron Bonjean, former communications director to House Speaker Dennis Hastert. "Democrats passed a stimulus package that just failed, we're at 9.6 unemployment and now the president is coming out with a plan, lo and behold, on Labor Day because he needs something to talk about. But this is really a sham, this is not going anywhere in Congress."
The goals of the infrastructure plan include: rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads; constructing and maintaining 4,000 miles of railways, enough to go coast-to-coast; and rehabilitating or reconstructing 150 miles of airport runways, while also installing a new air navigation system designed to reduce travel times and delays.
Obama will also call for the creation of a permanent "infrastructure bank" that uses competitive measures to determine which projects receive funding rather than earmarks and grants.
The White House made no secret of the president's intention to appeal to union members, an important and under-enthused segment of the Democratic base as the unemployment rate hovers at 9.6 percent. Tickets for the remarks, to be delivered at Milwaukee's annual Laborfest, which is sponsored by the Milwaukee Area Labor Council and affiliate unions, are to be distributed mainly to union members and their families.
But a senior administration official couldn't say how many jobs might be created.
"It would obviously (be) a substantial number of jobs. But just as important is that this would be a sustained program with increased investment over six years so it would be a sustained increase in jobs as well as America's productivity," the official said.
In an interview on CBS' "Early Show," Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said the plan Obama was to unveil Monday would "put construction workers, welders, electricians back to work ... folks that have been unemployed for a long time."
The senior official also said the president wants to pay for the program by closing "tax loopholes for big oil and gas companies that currently get subsidies from taxpayers that they certainly don't need."
The money would be included in reauthorization of the federal highway trust fund, which is broke.
"If we are to enjoy the benefits that come from a world-class transportation system, Congress must enact a long-term reauthorization that expands and reforms our infrastructure investments and returns the transportation trust fund to solvency," the White House said.
Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Obama is free to offer his prescriptions for the economy, but new measures are unlikely to get a hearing before the election.
"This is new legislation that the Senate is going to want to review. ... That will take time -- and floor debate on such a massive bill wouldn't happen in a day. And then there's reconciling the bill with the House," Stewart said. "So, I’ll leave it to you to decide whether this is something real that they expect to get done before the elections -- or just something they want you to write about to show momentum."