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Special Report

Obama Calls for More Infrastructure Spending

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report With Bret Baier," September 6, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Over the next six years we are going to rebuild 150,000 miles of our roads. That is enough to circle the world six times. That's a lot of road. We are going to lay and maintain 4,000 miles of the railways, enough to stretch coast-to-coast.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHANNON BREAM, GUEST HOST: That was the president today talking about a new $50 billion plus plan aimed at getting better infrastructure going in the country and keeping up jobs as well.

You had to know Republicans would respond right away. This is from Senate's top Republican Mitch McConnell. He said, quote, "A last minute, cobbled together stimulus bill with more than $50 billion in new tax hikes will not reverse the complete lack of confidence Americans have in Washington Democrats' ability to help economy."

Let's bring in our panel to talk about it, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Gentlemen, welcome to all of you.

All right, Charles, the White House has shied away from calling anything a stimulus, and that's exactly what Mitch McConnell did immediately, calling at it stimulus. What is it?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It is a stimulus, even though the word can't be used anymore. It's just a mini stimulus. This is a classic example of the administration acting for the appearance of activity. It doesn't have a clue what to do. It threw a half a trillion on first stimulus. And as we saw earlier on the show, almost 60 percent of Americans think it did absolutely nothing.

And they have no ideas. The economy is still in a ditch. So they come up with a mini version of this, which will be throwing $50 billion, and it will not leave a trace, unlike the interstate highway system or the TVA or the Hoover Dam, which were real infrastructure ideas. This will leave absolutely nothing will be left behind. And it will be a temporary fix.

I like the way the president announces, we heard it will be a six-year plan. Even Lenin had the modesty to stop at five.

(LAUGHTER)

BREAM: He pushed it an extra year.

All right, Juan, Charles calls it a mini stimulus. Others say it was pandering to unions before the election. He was speaking to obviously an organized labor crowd. Are those fair accusations?

JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yes. Look, he is speaking to a labor crowd, they're looking for labor jobs, blue collar jobs. So what we are talking about is the construction work and the like, things that put people into jobs that pay a good salary for someone who doesn't have a high level of education that can take advantage of our innovation in the economy.

That's where the jobs are in pretty much in this economy now, the high end, but the blue collar average worker is suffering, so here is President Obama speaking directly to that concern.

I think unlike Charles, when you think back over some of the great public works projects in our history, that this one is overdue. I think if you look at the infrastructure in the United States, everything from railways to highways, we are breaking down. If we can give people skills and allow them to compete with, for jobs that are now going overseas, that is a good thing.

I'm somewhat befuddled, though. Most Americans think the big stimulus package was for naught. And when you listen to the economists, what the economists tell you is that it created jobs. It saved us to the point where unemployment rate would be closer to 16 percent instead of nine percent. And yet it doesn't seem to amount to credit for the Obama administration.

So I imagine that the Republicans will greet this news as stimulus two, as Charles said, and we don't want any part of it, and they will obstruct it and block it and get away with it.

BREAM: And of course, the question of the price tag for this. Here is what the president had to say about that today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This is a plan that will be fully paid for. It will not add to the deficit over time. We are going to work with Congress to see to that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BREAM: All right, Steve, does Congress have the appetite to work on this project?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I don't know. Probably not. Certainly Republicans will not be enthusiastic about it.

What absolutely perplexes me about this move is that the White House, if it's been good at anything it's good at politics. We saw it at the campaign and we have seen it since President Obama became president.

This doesn't make any sense. The single biggest issue or one of the biggest issues under the broad category of the economy in Wisconsin right now is a very controversial high-speed rail project going from Madison to Milwaukee perhaps to Chicago.

The popularity of that has gone in the fall of 2009 from 57 percent to 41 percent at the beginning of June. And I talked to a couple of people today who say that the private polling is even more against this project, this big project.

To go to Wisconsin to announce massive new levels of infrastructure spending in the middle of a debate where infrastructure spending is at the heart of it and deeply unpopular makes absolutely no sense to me. And I made a bunch of phone calls today talking to people because I figured I was missing something. That's always possible. And people just don't have an explanation. What are they doing? We don't know.

BREAM: It may have been an odd choice for location.

We know the president will speak again on Wednesday, more on economic issues. He will talk about tax cuts, which was all over the Sunday shows this weekend. Charles, what do you make of that? We're talking about the tax cuts, again, how are those paid for elsewhere?

KRAUTHAMMER: What he said is they he will be closing loopholes and thus enabling the other cuts.

Let me explain how in the Democratic lexicon the word works. A loophole is an old tax cut which has outlived its political usefulness, so now it's being replaced with a new one which the Democrats two months before an election are going to tout as an example of how they are in favor of small business because it's a cut in investment of small business, and how the Republicans of course are in the thrall of big business and Wall Street.

What is surprising to me as is it to Steve is that to believe that this will have any effect, forget about economically, but politically, you know, a new mini stimulus on infrastructure after having thrown after a trillion at it already before, and closing a loophole so you can open up another, as if any of that is going to have a political effect is absurd.

And why they think it would be, I can only explain it as a huge underestimation of intelligence of the citizenry.

HAYES: It might have a political impact to pick up on what Charles is saying. But I don't think it will be a good one. I argue what we saw today for voters in Wisconsin looking at the issues carefully is more likely to have a negative political impact in the state of Wisconsin on two big races there, Russ Feingold's reelection campaign for senator and Tom Barrett running against Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker in the governor's race.

More likely to do damage to the two candidates in part because there is all this attention paid to who was with the president and who wasn't. Tom Barrett didn't show up when the president was there three weeks ago, Russ Feingold was there today. Feingold was not there, Tom Barrett showed up. There has been all of this attention paid and it's been a distraction.

And the big question, size and scope of government, is not one that is resolved favorably in views of I think most people in Wisconsin.

WILLIAMS: I think it comes too late in some regards to help the Democratic candidates who want to be in a position of saying our people are proactive when it comes to ginning up this economy and creating jobs, and we're on it.

So you are not going to see a sudden decline in the unemployment rate that they can trump to the voters, they can tout to the voters.

But here's the thing -- where are the Republican ideas? They are talking about it might be wrong to bring out these infrastructure projects, stimulus spending has not proven to be a hit with the voters. Republicans again are talking about tax cuts, tax cuts that are not, not stimulative in their nature and will not produce jobs.

So it seems to me the president is up a tree, he doesn't know what to do on some level. But the idea of rebuilding America's infrastructure, you could wrap a flag around it. It's motherhood and apple pie, it's good stuff. It's just that in the current environment, everyone is so jaded, Republicans won't approve of it. They see it as last-minute gesture. And I think voters will think this came up too short, too late.

KRAUTHAMMER: It's the Democratic reflex -- if you don't know what to do spend.

WILLIAMS: I don't think it's a wasteful project, though, to build on America's infrastructure.

BREAM: We'll give Juan the final word, there. Gentleman, thank you very much. That's it on the economy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD TRUMKA, AFL-CIO PRESIDENT: Brothers and sisters, President Obama and the Democratic leaders share our vision of an America built on good jobs, and together all of us are going to get America back to work. It won't be the bankers, it won't be the Tea Partiers, it won't be the party of no. It'll be you, it'll be all of us working together, right?

(APPLAUSE)

And we've got 57 days until November 2.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BREAM: Organized labor has traditionally has been a force in the elections. Is that changing? Let's bring in our panel again to talk about it, Steve, Juan, and Charles.

Juan, I'll start with you. They have been a powerhouse. They have money, organization, people on the ground. But are they losing steam as a force within politics?

WILLIAMS: If you look, if you track it over the course of the end of the 20th century and of course now the start of the 21st, they have been on a steady decline in terms of membership and in terms of the amount of money they can invest in campaigns, just as matter of influence.

When you can go back to President Reagan and the air traffic controllers and the demonstration that he can break in, all of that is all on the table and I think evidence of the declining influence of unions.

Now, you come over the last eight years of President Bush, obviously the emphasis was on deregulation, not friendly towards the union. You come into the Obama administration and they are more open to the union and union leaders than we have seen in years here in Washington. In fact the record of visits to White House by union leaders, I think they exceed anybody else.

But if you look at sort the marquee items, card check for example, you don't hear the Obama administration saying we'll put everything on the table for card check. It's just not happening. You think about the Cadillac plans in the health care bill, not happening. They allowed it to go through the additional taxation despite opposition coming from the unions.

So for moment it looks like the union are one hope to try to counter the Tea Party, but the Tea Party are the ones who have all the energy coming through.

BREAM: Yes, and Steve, Juan mentioned some of the key things they hope to get through, and with this Congress and with this president you would have thought they would have gotten those things accomplished. If they lose big this fall, those things are all off the table.

HAYES: That's true. In small picture particulars, Juan is right. But in the big picture, unions are benefiting from the expansion of government at a rate we have never seen before. There are now more union members who work for the government than work for the private sector in the United States this year for the first time.

The unions have clearly benefited from the expansion of government, and to the extent that they are making arguments today, their arguments are for further expansion of governments, even when they're making the general principled argument on behalf of the unionized workers, they're arguing as matter of fact for the expansion of government.

In terms of the their political influence, there's no question it is on the wane. However, if you look at what unions can do, one thing they can do better than just about anybody is get people to polls. They have a system. They have an unbelievable get out the vote efforts. The union members are loyal and show up.

And they have done this for years. So everybody knows where to go, you meet at the same place and get on a bus and go to same polls and have the same job. And to that extent I don't think it will matter that much, but where it might help to a certain extent is in stemming the losses.

BREAM: One of the big losses we saw for them though was the primary down in Arkansas where they tried to unseat Blanche Lincoln in her Democratic primary, allegedly spent more than $10 million to try and get the lieutenant governor they considered more friendly to their causes onto the ballot. She won there. Are they still reeling from that?

KRAUTHAMMER: Internally it was a Democratic internal fight. But in the coming election the unions are Obama's strongest ally. Juan is right that in absolute terms their influence has declined dramatically over the last half century when they were extremely strong.

But relatively speaking to the other parts of the Obama constituency, they are the most energized. Obama has lost all enthusiasm from Hispanics and gays and civil libertarians who feel he has not done a lot for them, whereas the unions have been repaid hugely in the auto bailout and the tens of billions that Obama has given to state governments which have keep bureaucrats, teachers and other state union members in their jobs at a time when the private sector has been shedding millions of jobs and becoming much more lean and efficient.

So they have gotten their reward and are more enthusiastic relative to any other part of the Democratic constituency. They are the most important element Obama has. That is why he is actually their man. He does what they ask him to.

BREAM: All right, gentlemen, thank you very much. That's it for our panel.

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