ST. PAUL, Minn. – President Obama visited a revived train station in the Midwest on Wednesday to extol the benefits of federal spending on light rail, roads and bridges, as he offered cautious praise for a Republican tax reform effort that could help foot the bill for major infrastructure investments.
At the freshly renovated Union Depot, Obama outlined his proposed four-year, $302 billion transportation plan that would be funded in part by closing loopholes and tax breaks for corporations. The president touted infrastructure spending as a fast job creator and a key to expanding the economy.
“Other countries are not waiting to rebuild their infrastructure. They’re trying to out-build us today so they can out-compete us tomorrow,” Obama told the crowd about 1,300 people. “They know that if they have the fastest trains on the planet or the highest-rated airports or the busiest, most efficient ports, that businesses will go there. … We want them to come here to the United States of America. And that means the best airports and the best roads and the best trains should be right here in America.”
If Congress doesn’t renew infrastructure programs by fall, the president warned, more than 700,000 jobs will be at risk. The Highway Trust Fund, funded by gasoline taxes, is projected to run out of money at the end of August, and the transportation law authorizing programs expires soon after.
Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, who traveled with the president, dubbed the deadlines the “transportation cliff.” Obama warned that if money for projects dries up, “we could see construction projects stopped in their tracks, machines sitting idle, workers off the jobs.”
Despite those risks, it will be difficult to pass major transportation legislation through a divided Congress, which has generally been averse to costly and complicated bills.