Obama Urges Infrastructure Spending to Spur U.S. Economy

President Barack Obama sought to put aside turmoil with the rollout of the federal health insurance marketplace by focusing on the billions of dollars in public investments he says the U.S. needs to boost the economy.

Speaking yesterday at the Port of New Orleans, Obama urged Congress to get past partisan battles and pass a budget that increases spending on science, research and education, and upgrades roads, bridges and ports.

“That creates jobs, it puts people to work,” he said. These are “not partisan issues, they are American issues.”

Obama also prodded lawmakers to pass a farm bill and immigration legislation, two items on his agenda that he has said he wants finished by the end of the year.

Lawmakers are negotiating a budget deal before the current spending authorization runs out Jan. 15.

Obama returned to economic matters after weeks of criticism over a faulty start for the government website where Americans can shop for health coverage and a wave of dissent from Democrats as well as Republicans over cancellations of individual insurance plans for hundreds of thousands of people.

The president briefly addressed the issues surrounding the Affordable Health Care Act, the signature legislative achievement of his first term, saying that the online portal will be fixed and that ultimately most people will find more comprehensive and more affordable insurance.

Job Growth

Obama spoke a few hours after the Labor Department reported that American employers added 204,000 workers to payrolls in October, more than economists projected. The growth occurred in the same month as a 16-day partial government shutdown caused by a standoff between the White House and congressional Republicans over the budget and raising the federal debt ceiling.

Obama said exports can help drive future economic growth. In 2010, the president announced an initiative to double U.S. exports between 2009 to 2014, to $3.14 trillion. They totaled $2.2 trillion last year.

The Port of New Orleans, at the mouth of the Mississippi River, is the fifth largest U.S. port as measured by tonnage handled, said Matthew Gresham, a spokesman for the New Orleans Port Authority. The port’s cargo business generated about 160,000 jobs and $17 billion in spending statewide, a port authority fact sheet said.

Exports through New Orleans have climbed by 140 percent since 2009, the White House said in a statement.

Port Goods

Major products flowing through the port include steel, rubber, coffee, containers, chemicals, metals, forest, farm and manufactured goods. The port’s facilities serve an average of 1,800 vessels, and it has the world’s longest wharf that’s more than two miles long.

The Obama administration is negotiating two new trade agreements, one among Pacific nations, and the other with European nations, that if approved would increase U.S. sales of goods and services abroad, adding jobs.

To make the U.S. more competitive, Obama has proposed a $50 billion program for infrastructure spending to upgrade the nation’s bridges, roads and ports.

He’s also proposed a “Fix It First” program that would identify projects needing the most urgent upgrades. His push is meant to lure additional private capital to help repair aging public works projects.

Congress hasn’t taken any action on either proposal.

Miami Fundraisers

Obama later traveled to Miami to attend three fundraisers to prepare for the 2014 midterm elections, one benefiting the Democratic National Committee and two for the campaign arm of Senate Democrats. He also raised money Nov. 6 in Dallas.

Speaking at the home of Jorge Mas, a Cuban American National Foundation leader and chairman of MasTec Inc., a specialty contractor for communications companies, utilities and governments throughout the U.S., Obama decried delays on an overhaul of immigration law.

“It’s being held up because there’s a small faction in the other party that’s decided ‘we don’t’ want to do anything, and our main goal is obstruction,’” he said, referring to Republicans affiliated with the Tea Party movement.

The president said he has “a whole drawer full of good ideas” but “ultimately I’ve got to have a Congress that is prepared to moved forward, work on those issues where we agree.”

At a second fundraiser in Miami, hosted by Leslie Miller Saiontz, a philanthropist and real-estate investor, Obama predicted that the Republican Party would soon face an “adjustment period” in which it would move “back to reason and common sense.”

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