President Obama chose an aging bridge connecting Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood to the Northern Virginia suburbs on Tuesday to warn that Republicans in Congress are risking shutting down transportation projects around the country that employ millions of people and to say it’s time for ordinary Americans to make themselves heard.
“If American people put pressure on Washington D.C., we can grow our economy, we can lift people’s incomes, we can make sure people who are fighting hard can make it to the middle class. But it’s going to take you,” Obama said from a podium on the Georgetown waterfront.
Obama spoke to ratchet up the pressure on Congress to fund the Highway Trust Fund, which is about to run out of money in August unless Congress takes action to appropriate more money. That would mean road and bridge projects around the country could grind to a halt, and hundreds of thousands of workers could be laid off. Congress also faces a Sept. 30 deadline to authorize a new round of funding for highway and public transportation projects.
The president strategically chose Key Bridge as the backdrop. Of the five bridges that cross the Potomac River between Washington and Virginia, two are rated “structurally deficient” – including Key Bridge, which carries on average 120,000 cars a day, far beyond its rated capacity.
Obama announced that construction will soon begin on this bridge, named after the author of the “Star Spangled Banner.” But that is one of the projects that would be put on hold by congressional gridlock.
Obama warned that unless Congress acts, “soon, states will have to choose which projects to continue and which ones to stop, just because they worry that Congress will not get their act together in time.”
President Obama referred to his own proposal earlier this year to systematically rebuild infrastructure across the country. He blamed the slow economic recovery partially to our lack of commitment to expanding and repairing the nation’s transportation systems. He highlighted the small percentage of spending the U.S. government currently dedicates to infrastructure, in contrast to the European nations and rising powers such as China.
“House Republicans have voted down every serious idea to strengthen the middle class,” Obama said. “[They have said] no to fair pay, no to extending unemployment insurance. [Their action] prevents from helping more middle class families.”
Obama reiterated his plan to fund transportation improvements by “closing tax loopholes on corporations that are shipping their profits overseas.” Congressional Republicans, however, have resisted every effort so far to clamp down on corporate tax evasion and use the proceeds to pay for new transportation investments. But it’s not just Republicans; some Democrats have pressed for a one-time tax “holiday” to lure corporations into bringing profits back from overseas and using a sliver of those profits to buy infrastructure bonds.
The president said Tuesday that “people don’t care about the polls or the politics – they just want results.” But right now the dominant voices Congress are hearing are the businesses that profit from transportation spending and the state officials who administer the projects. The people who “want results” – projects that people put to work improving our transportation grid and boosting our economy – need to demand from their members of Congress urgent action this month on transportation funding – with the corporations that profit from our roads and public transportation paying their fair share.