MIAMI – President Obama plans to visit a tunnel project at the Port of Miami on Friday to promote a series of proposals that White House officials think could appeal to Republicans.
Among them: $4 billion to invest in rebuilding roads and bridges that businesses depend on. Seed money to encourage companies to invest in ports and other points of commerce. Even tax cuts designed to attract investors – at home and abroad – to such projects.
“There is no reason this should be a Democratic tunnel or a Republican tunnel,” Josh Earnest, White House principal deputy press secretary, said aboard Air Force One. “These are projects that are helpful to the economy and shouldn't break down on partisan lines.”
Yet Republicans welcomed Obama to Miami with an attack on his economic philosophy and lampooned his proposals.
Writing in the Miami Herald, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) said Obama needs to listen to people in Florida “to get a true sense of the effect more tax increases and spending hikes will have on our nation’s middle class.”
He wrote, “He would learn that many aspects of policies like Obamacare have ended up hurting many middle-class families instead of helping them. He would find that the expanding role of our government has created uncertainty by establishing rules that many small businesses can’t afford to follow.”
And Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said, “Have they said yet how they’re going to pay for all of this? That matters, of course. Last time, I think he wanted to tax the same people that were supposed to create the jobs.”
The White House says the proposals won’t add a dime to the deficit, meaning they will have to be offset by either spending cuts or tax increases. The details are expected on April 10, when the president will release his fiscal 2014 budget. Obama also has a much larger infrastructure plan on the table: a $40 billion “Fix it First” plan to spur the hiring of construction workers and the building of roads and bridges across the country.
A complicating factor is sequestration – the deep spending cuts now spreading through the federal government. Rather than invest in infrastructure, the cuts are reducing investment. Aboard Air Force One, Alan Kruger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, warned that the country had spent less on infrastructure compared to global competitors.
But not all hope for bipartisan compromise is loss. Last month, after the unveiling of the “Fix it First” plan, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) agreed that the nation needs to spend more in this area.
“The president talked about infrastructure, but he didn't talk about how to pay for it,” he said. “And it's easy to go out there and be Santa Claus and talk about all the things you want to give away, but at some point somebody has to pay the bill.”
He added, “I'm committed to working to find a funding source so that we can begin to repair America's aging infrastructure.”
The president’s proposal on Friday has several parts. It would spend $4 billion on local and state projects. It would invest $10 billion in an “infrastructure bank” that would then make loans to private companies looking to invest in building projects. It would finance new tax-free bonds that make it easier for states and localities to raise money and offer other tax subsidies totaling $7 billion.