Infrastructure was the buzzword today on day three of President Obama's sales tour for his economic stimulus package.
He and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, his pick to head the Democratic National Committee, visited the Fairfax County Parkway outside Washington, D.C., to highlight how many jobs could be quickly created with highway, bridge, mass transit, and other public works projects.
Kaine said the parkway has been under construction for more than 20 years and needs to be finished to link up to a large scientific facility, but two phases are unfunded.
Obama urged Congress again to finish work on the bill. "Now we have to get a final version to my desk, so I can sign it," he said.
"We're surrounded by unmet needs and unfinished business," he said, with the construction site in Springfield, Va., as a backdrop.
He said the consequences of insufficient investment in infrastructure show up in dramatic ways such as the failed levees in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrian and the deadly bridge collapse in Minneapolis -- and in daily ways such as traffic gridlock that drives down productivity.
(Obama's full remarks are below.)
Also today, Vice President Biden and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell will visit the Route 34 Bridge over the Conodoguinet Creek in Carlisle -- an example of the thousands of bridges across the country that need repair -- then speak at the State Capitol in Harrisburg about infrastructure.
While the White House says the stimulus plan represents the largest investment increase in our nationís mass transit systems, roads, and bridges since the creation of the national highway system in the 1950s, some critics have said the package does not include infrastructure spending.
A House-Senate conference committee, with heavy input from the White House, is trying to quickly come up with a compromise that both chambers will approve and that Obama will sign into law.
The Senate's $838 billion version includes about $46 billion for transportation projects, including $27 billion for highway and bridge construction and repair and $11.5 billion for mass transit and rail projects. It also includes $4.6 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers; $5 billion for public housing improvements; and $6.4 billion for clean and drinking water projects.
The $820 billion House plans includes $47 billion for transportation projects, including $27 billion for highway and bridge construction and repair and $12 billion for mass transit. It also includes $31 billion to build and repair federal buildings and other public infrastructure.
The House plan also includes $20 billion for school modernization -- not in the Senate version -- that Democrats and Obama want to restore.
But the three Republicans who voted for the Senate plan -- Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania -- are threatening to take a walk if the conference committee compromise strays too far from the Senate version.
The Associated Press is reporting that Obama's negotiating team had prevailed in restoring some lost funding for school construction projects and had also increased aid to state governments above the $39 billion approved in a compromise with a handful of Senate GOP moderates.
But his signature tax credit would be reduced from $500 per worker to $400, and from $1,000 to $800 for couples, a Democratic aide close to the talks told AP.
UPDATE: The conference committee is reportedly putting together a package of about $790 billion -- less than either the House or Senate version -- in part by trimming back tax cuts for homebuyers and car buyers.
"We're getting closer," Senator Ben Nelson, a conservative Democrat from Nebraska who helped negotiate the Senate package, told reporters.
He said he does not see a "deal breaker" in the negotiations.
Thank you, everybody. I am extraordinarily pleased to be here with Virginia's Governor, an exceptional leader and a great friend of mine, Tim Kaine.
Not far from where we're standing, back in Washington, we continue to have a debate about our economic plan -- a plan to create or save more than 3 million jobs in the next few years. And I welcome that conversation. But I am here today because you don't need to travel very far from that debate to see why enacting this plan is both urgent and essential to our recovery -- to see that the time for talk has passed and that now is the time to take bold and swift action.
We've passed a version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan through the House. Yesterday, we passed a version through the Senate. Now we've got to get a final version to my desk -- so that I can sign it and so that here in Virginia and across the country the people can use it.
In Virginia, the unemployment rate has surged to its highest level in more than a decade -- and it might have been a lot worse were it not for the leadership of Governor Tim Kaine and former governor, now Senator Mark Warner. Unemployment claims have doubled in recent months compared to last year. Nationwide, we've lost 3.6 million jobs since this recession began -- nearly 600,000 this past month alone.
These are the people I talked to in Elkhart, Indiana, on Monday, which has lost jobs faster than anyplace else in America, with an unemployment rate of over 15 percent. They're the people I met yesterday in Fort Myers, Florida, which has been among the places hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis. These are the folks looking for work, and these are the folks who want to work.
At the same time, look around us. Look at this construction site right where we're standing. We're surrounded by unmet needs and unfinished business -- in our schools, in our roads, in the systems we employ to treat the sick, in the energy we use to power our homes. And that's the core of my plan: putting people to work doing the work that America needs done.
We're here today because there's a lot of work that needs to be done on our nation's congested roads and highways, crumbling bridges and levees, and crowded trains and transit systems. Because we know that with investment, we can create transportation and communications systems ready for the demands of the 21st century -- and because we also know what happens when we fail to make those investments.
We've seen the consequences of a bridge collapse in Minneapolis. We've seen the consequences of levees failing in New Orleans. We see the consequences every day in ways that may be less drastic, but are, nonetheless, burdens on local communities and economies -- time with family lost because of longer daily commutes; growth held back by streets that can't handle new business; money wasted on fuel that's burned in worsening traffic. These are problems that the people of Northern Virginia understand acutely.
Governor Kaine understands it acutely. And your Governor has worked valiantly to relieve these transportation pressures while, at the same time, facing enormous budget pressures. What's worse, now states are facing acute new responsibilities during this recession. Local governments are seeing more people filing unemployment claims, signing up for Medicaid, requesting government services. And all the while, people are spending less, earning less, and paying less in taxes.
So across the country, states need help. And with my plan, help is what they will get. My plan contains the largest investment increase in our nation's infrastructure since President Eisenhower created the national highway system half a century ago. We'll invest more than $100 billion and create nearly 400,000 jobs rebuilding our roads, our railways, our dangerously deficient dams, bridges and levees.
Here in Virginia, my plan will create or save almost 100,000 jobs, doing work at sites just like this one. Where we're standing, that could mean hundreds of construction jobs. And the benefits of jobs we create directly will multiply across the economy.
For example, this kind of infrastructure project requires heavy equipment. Caterpillar, which manufactures the machines used in this project, has announced some 20,000 layoffs in the last few weeks. And today, the chairman and CEO of Caterpillar said that if the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan passes, his company would be able to rehire some of those employees.
Tomorrow, I'm going to East Peoria, Illinois, to visit a Caterpillar manufacturing plant to talk to these workers. Because what's at stake here are not abstract numbers of abstract concepts -- we're talking about real families that we can help and real jobs that we can save.
My plan will also give tax cuts to 3 million Virginia workers and their families. And we'll provide an additional $100 per month in unemployment benefits to nearly a quarter-million workers in Virginia who've lost their jobs, and extend benefits to 46,000 more workers who aren't currently eligible.
So we're at the doorstep of getting this plan through the Congress, but the work is not over. When we do, the challenge will shift to administering successfully this endeavor of enormous scope and scale.
Now, there are those who've expressed the opinion that we won't be able to do it, who say that this plan is too big to be implemented effectively and efficiently. And the fact is, there's a certain amount of skepticism, much of it justified, by what we're accustomed to seeing in Washington. So I understand these concerns, but I'm confident that we can do things differently and better.
As President, I expect to be judged -- and should be judged -- by the results of this program. That's why I refused to allow even a single dollar in this legislation to be spent on earmarks. And that's why we're going to put information about every dollar that's spent, including the money spent on projects like this one, on a new website called recovery.gov -- so that the American people can see where their money is going.
And that's why I will appoint an oversight board that will be charged with monitoring my plans as part of an unprecedented effort to root out waste and inefficiency. And this board will be advised by experts -- not just government experts, not just politicians, but citizens with years of expertise in management, economics and accounting.
We're going to do more than has ever been done before to make certain that every tax dollar is spent wisely and on its intended purpose. So we're going to hold the federal government to new standards of accountability. And just as we demand new accountability for ourselves, we're going to demand this kind of accountability from the states and cities, as well. And I know Tim Kaine and other governors and mayors around the country would expect nothing less.
So much depends on what we do at this moment. It's not just about the future of my administration. It's about the future of our families and communities, our economy and our country. We are going to do this carefully and transparently and effectively as possible because so much is on the line. And that's what we've already begun to do -- drafting this plan with a level of openness for which the American people have asked and which this situation demands.
So I, once again, thank Governor Kaine for welcoming me to the Commonwealth of Virginia once again. I want to thank him for his support of this plan that's so urgent for the people he represents and for the people that I've met throughout this great state and throughout the country.
Thank you very much.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.