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MIAMI — President Barack Obama was promoting a plan to create jobs by attracting private investment in highways and other public works during a visit Friday to a Miami port.
The president chose to flesh out details of his proposals in a speech at the port, which is undergoing $2 billion in upgrades paid for with government and private money. Obama, in the quick trip to South Florida, was trying to show that the economy remains his top priority in the midst of high-profile campaigns on immigration reform and gun control.
Among the proposals Obama is calling for:
- $4 billion in new spending on two infrastructure programs that award loans and grants.
- Higher caps on “private activity bonds” to encourage more private spending on highways and other infrastructure projects. State and local governments use the bonds to attract investment.
- Giving foreign pension funds tax-exempt status when selling U.S. infrastructure, property or real estate assets. U.S. pension funds are generally tax exempt in those circumstances. The administration says some international pension funds cite the tax burden as a reason for not investing in American infrastructure.
- A renewed call for a $10 billion national “infrastructure bank” — a proposal from his first term that gained little traction.
Arriving at the expansive port in Miami, Obama stood inside a double-barreled, concrete-laced hole in the ground, touring a tunnel project that will connect the port to area highways. The project has received loans and grants under the programs Obama is touting and is expected to open next summer.
The president made private-sector infrastructure investment a key part of the economic agenda he rolled out in his State of the Union address last month. He also called in his address for a “Fix-It-First” program that would spend $40 billion in taxpayer funds on urgent repairs.
All of the proposals would require approval from Congress — no sure bet, considering that House Republicans have shown little appetite for funding Obama's proposed initiatives. In fact, the infrastructure bank is an idea Obama has called for repeatedly before, but it gained little traction during his first term.
Obama's focus on generating more private sector investment underscores the tough road new spending faces on Capitol Hill, where Republican lawmakers often threaten to block additional spending unless it is paid for by tax cuts or other measures. “These are projects that are helpful to the economy and shouldn't break down on partisan lines,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
But Florida Republicans, including Gov. Rick Scott, faulted Obama for being “late to the party,” arguing ahead of Obama's visit that Florida taxpayers had to pick up too much of the tab because the president was slow to support the project.
White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Alan Krueger told reporters traveling with Obama that the initiatives being touted today will come to $21 billion, not including the $40 billion for Fix it First. Krueger said any increased spending associated with the proposals would not add to the deficit.
Krueger did not detail how the costs would be paid for, saying only that more information would be included in the president's budget that is scheduled to be released April 10.