obama_800

President Obama calls for increased infrastructure spending from Georgetown Waterfront Park in Washington, D.C., Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Washington’s Mayor Vincent Gray were also in attendance, along with several ULI staff members.

With the aging Key Bridge as a backdrop in Washington, D.C., U.S. President Barack Obama called on Congress to patch the Highway Trust Fund ahead of the mid-year elections. (President’s Full Remarks)

If no patch is passed, he said that a transportation funding shutdown could cost some 700,000 construction jobs. “That would be like the Congress threatening to lay off the entire population of Denver, Seattle, or Boston,” he said.

Beyond patching the existing trust fund, Obama said more should be spent on infrastructure: “[W]e are not spending enough on the things that help our economy grow, the things that help businesses move products, the thing that help workers get to the job, the things that help families get home to see their loved ones at night. We spend significantly less as a portion of our economy than China does, than Germany does, than just about every other advanced country. They know something that I guess we don’t, which is that’s the path to growth, that’s the path to competitiveness.”

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, the former mayor of Charlotte, N. C., and a former ULI Rose Center fellow, has already begun communicating to states that funds will be increasingly limited.

“[A]s we approach insolvency, the Department will be forced to limit payments to manage the reduced levels of cash available in the Trust Fund,” Foxx wrote in a letter to state transportation departments. “This means, among other things, that the Federal Highway Administration will no longer make ‘same-day’ payments to reimburse States.”

President Obama said that some states are already slowing or halting projects due to the uncertainty. He also called for additional spending on infrastructure, primarily by cutting corporate tax loopholes.

Obama’s comments were supportive of the $8 billion plan floated by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) that would fund highway projects by tightening compliance with tax laws. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman David Camp (R., Mich.) has said he will unveil a proposal in early July.

Obama’s speech also touched on the missed opportunities of the recent past, saying Congress has said no to raising the minimum wage, fair pay, and extending unemployment benefits.

He also called for more “economic patriotism,” saying that we should be doing more to benefit all, including bringing manufacturing jobs back from overseas.

“We could do so much more if we just rallied around an economic patriotism, a sense that our job is to get things done as one nation and as one people. … Economic patriotism would say that instead of protecting corporations that are shipping jobs overseas, let’s make sure they’re paying their fair share of taxes, let’s reward American workers and businesses that hire them. Let’s put people to work rebuilding America. Let’s invest in manufacturing, so the next generation of good manufacturing jobs are right here, made in the U.S.A.”

“[O]bjectively, if you look at the agenda I’m putting forward, the things that we’re trying to get done like just fixing bridges and roads, it really shouldn’t be controversial,” said Obama.  “It hasn’t been controversial in the past. ”