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In Miami, Obama pushes for infrastructure plan

March 29, 2013|By Kathleen Hennessey

WASHINGTON -- President Obama urged Congress to take up his proposals to improve the nation’s infrastructure, saying his plan would encourage private investment and put construction workers back to work.

Making a quick day trip to the Port of Miami, Obama argued that restoring neglected bridges, roads and other infrastructure could spur economic growth with minimal government spending.

“We still have too many ports that aren't equipped for today's world commerce. We've still got too many rail lines that are too slow and clogged up,” Obama said. “We can do better. We can build better. And in a time of tight budgets, we've got to do it in a way that makes sure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.”

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Obama’s visit highlighted a massive tunnel project underway at the port. The PortMiami project has employed more than 500 people over three years and attracted federal, state and private capital, the White House said.

Obama’s emphasis on private investment to fund new construction projects is a nod to political reality. Congress, particularly the Republican-led House, has shown no appetite for major new spending. Although he unveiled billions in stimulus measures in his State of the Union address in February, Obama has spent the subsequent weeks fighting with Republicans over spending cuts, not increases.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said the speaker’s reaction to the plan had not changed since February, when the Ohio Republican said the president had not explained how he planned to pay for his new investment.

“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,” Boehner said.

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The White House says Obama’s infrastructure plan would cost $21 billion. The centerpiece of the plan is the creation of an infrastructure bank, which would leverage private and government money to invest in major projects. The president has proposed a bank before, with little interest in Congress. Still, Obama’s budget, due for release April 10, will seek $10 billion for the bank.

Obama also is proposing creating a new bond program that would be used to fund projects. America Fast Forward Bonds would be modeled on a similar, temporary program used in the 2009 stimulus bill.

The president proposed increasing by $4 billion direct loans and loan guarantees for transportation projects. His plan also includes new tax incentives for foreign investment in infrastructure.

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kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

Twitter: @khennessey

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