- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2010

President Obama returned to political campaign mode Monday with sharp words for Republicans and a proposal to spend at least $50 billion on the country’s transportation infrastructure - another bid to revive the lagging U.S. economy before the November elections.

Though the prospects of legislation passing Congress and having much effect before the Nov. 2 elections are poor, Mr. Obama announced the plan at a union-sponsored Labor Day rally in Milwaukee.

He also criticized previous Republican leadership for the country’s economic problems while calling for bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

“When it comes to just about everything we’ve done to strengthen the middle class and rebuild our economy, almost every Republican in Congress said no,” he told the cheering crowd, delirious with the return of “party of no” rhetoric. ” ‘No’ to help for small businesses. ‘No’ to middle-class tax cuts. … If I said fish live in the sea, they’d say, ‘No.’ “

With Mr. Obama returning to themes of his 2008 campaign, Republican reaction was instantly skeptical, particularly about new proposals such as offsetting the spending by raising taxes on oil and gas companies.

“As the American people … mark Labor Day by asking where are the jobs, the White House has chosen to double down on more of the same failed ‘stimulus’ spending,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “Eighteen months ago, the administration promised that if we passed their trillion-dollar ‘stimulus’ it would create jobs immediately and keep unemployment below 8 percent. … If we’ve learned anything from the past 18 months, it’s that we can’t spend our way to prosperity.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the plan “should be met with justifiable skepticism” and that it would raise taxes while Americans are still looking for “shovel-ready” jobs promised more than a year ago.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, acknowledged that Mr. Obama’s proposal has little chance without Republican support.

Senior administration officials said measures for economic progress will take effect mostly in the long run and likely will do little to lower the 9.6 percent unemployment rate anytime soon. They told reporters that Congress might not authorize funding for the six-year plan until after November and that no more jobs will be created until 2011.

They declined to give the total cost of the plan but said the $50 billion was a large percentage of the bill and that most of the money would be spent in the first year.

The infrastructure plan is part of a large recovery strategy the president is expected to announce Wednesday in Cleveland. That city, as well as Milwaukee, are Democrat-leaning cities that will play a prominent role in this year’s races as the president and other White House officials travel across the country to help campaign for Democratic candidates.

In Ohio, Republican Rob Portman, a former congressman and senior George W. Bush administration official, is in a tight race with Democratic Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher for the open seat of retiring Sen. George V. Voinovich, a Republican.In Wisconsin, Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat, is in a tough re-election race after holding the seat for 18 years. He faces the winner of the Republicans’ Sept. 14 primary, which businessman Ron Johnson is expected to win.

Mr. Obama’s Labor Day speech praised organized labor’s efforts to help the middle class - including such measures as implementing Social Security and the 40-hour workweek. He also delivered some of his harshest criticism so far against Republicans, directly criticizing Mr. Boehner for not helping pass a funding bill this summer that paid salaries for thousands of teachers, police officers and other local-government employees.

“The Republican who’s already planning to take over as speaker of the House dismissed them as ‘government jobs’ that werent worth saving,” he said.

Mr. Obama also said his critics “talk about me like a dog.”

However, he also acknowledged having “no quick fix” to a recession he has attempted to reverse for his first two years in office.

The proposal announced Monday specifically calls for rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads, building and maintaining 4,000 miles of railway and improving airports by fixing and building 150 miles of runways and installing an air navigation system known as NexGen to reduce travel time and delays.

The proposal also calls for a permanent infrastructure bank that primarily would fund national and regional infrastructure projects.

The administration pushed through Congress last year an $814 billion stimulus plan with a huge infrastructure-spending component, a point that skeptical Republicans used to accuse Mr. Obama of pushing the same-old same-old.

“Americans didn’t like this movie when it failed to meet the hype the first time around,” said Paul Lindsay, a National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman. “Washington Democrats will not find a receptive audience to even more government spending and higher taxes at the expense of middle-class families.”

Senior administration officials acknowledged that transportation infrastructure proposals are introduced every several years but said the new elements of this plan include the bank to replace the depleted transportation fund and bringing the country’s high-speed rail initiative into its surface-infrastructure program.

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