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Back to the economy, Obama pushes infrastructure plan in Miami

Susan Walsh / AP

President Barack Obama tours a tunnel project at the Port of Miami, Friday, March 29, 2013, while promoting a plan to create jobs by attracting private investment in highways and other public works.

At the end of a week dominated by issues of immigration and gun control legislation, President Barack Obama on Friday focused on the economy, appearing in Miami to press Congress to pass new tax incentive and federal spending proposals he says will help attract more investment in the nation’s infrastructure.  

He asked the audience at the Port of Miami Terminal: “What are we waiting for?” He continued, “There’s work to be done. There’s workers who are ready to do it. Let’s prove to the world there’s no better place to do business than right here in the United States of America and let’s get started rebuilding America.”

Obama said that the country is still dotted with dated bridges, rail lines, roads and ports that hamper trade and endanger the public.

President Barack Obama adds to points he made in the State of the Union address earlier this year by pushing infrastructure improvement plans in Miami, Florida.

“We don’t have to accept that for America,” he said. “We can do better. We can build better.”

New in the president’s remarks was a proposal for an expanded bond program and changes in the taxation rules for foreign investment, both designed to encourage private companies to invest in infrastructure projects. Obama also proposed an expansion of current infrastructure spending programs to the tune of $4 billion, and he reiterated his call for a “National Infrastructure Bank,” which he first proposed in 2011.

The administration points to the backdrop of the Miami port as evidence of the potential success of such projects. A tunnel being built to alleviate congestion – funded by a combination of public and private partnerships – has created work for 500 employees and over 6,000 contractors and subcontractors, the White House said.

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A senior advisor said earlier Friday that the combined cost of the proposals is $21 billion, adding that the measures are not expected to increase the deficit.  More details on the cost of the projects will be clear when the president releases his budget on April 10.

Each of the three proposals would require legislative action from Congress, a heavy lift at a time when Republican lawmakers have little appetite for increasing spending.

On Friday, Obama dinged Republicans for disapproving of blanket “government spending” but privately lobbying for infrastructure projects that create jobs – and boost their political popularity – at home.

“I know that members of Congress are happy to weclome projects like this in their districts,” Obama said. “I know because I’ve seen them at the ribbon cuttings.”

Despite the economic focus, the president also touched on the other major legislative pushes that loom after Congress’s Easter recess.

“We’re going to fix our economy,” he said, listing his administration’s priorities at the conclusion of his remarks. “We’re going to fix our immigration system, we are going to make sure that our young people are getting a great education, we’re going to prevent them from being victims of gun violence, and we are going to make sure that everybody in this country has a fair shot and is doing their fair share.”