RICHFIELD, Ohio — With earth-movers, hardhats, and American flags as backdrops, President Trump on Thursday urged Congress to enact what he bills as the biggest investment in the nation’s roads, bridges, and pipelines that the nation has seen in half a century.
“Anything we can dream, we can build,” he said. “You will create the new highways, the new dams, and skyscrapers that will become lasting monuments to America’s strength and continuing greatness.”
President Donald Trump waves as he is introduced to speak at Local 18 Richfield Training Facility, Thursday, March 29, 2018, in Richfield.
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This marked Mr. Trump’s second visit to Ohio in less than a year to promote what the administration touts as a $1.5 trillion, 10-year public-private investment in replacing and building new infrastructure, saying it is America’s turn to be a “developing country.”
President Obama visited Ohio in 2011 in hopes of getting Capitol Hill to move a massive infrastructure plan that was largely seen as economic stimulus part two. It never got off the ground.
Despite describing a sense of urgency, Mr. Trump conceded that he may have to wait until after this year’s election to see passage of the package, whether as a single bill or a series of bills.
He spoke to a predominantly male, mixed crowd of suits, ties, and hardhats at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 18 training facility in Richfield, north of Akron. The union represents heavy equipment operators, mechanics, engineers, and other construction trades.
Gov. John Kasich, his former foe in the 2016 contest for the GOP presidential nomination and still a frequent critic, was nowhere to be seen and was not mentioned by the President.
But Mr. Kasich’s lieutenant governor, Mary Taylor, was in attendance as she has realigned herself with Mr. Trump in her own bid for governor this year. Her opponent for the GOP nomination, Attorney General Mike DeWine, did not attend.
In a 52-minute speech in which he swerved from subject to subject, the Republican President talked midterm elections, veterans’ health care, tax cuts, South Korean trade, his promised wall on the Mexican border, judicial appointments, and even the TV ratings of the Trump-talking Roseanne reboot.
“We spent as of three months ago $7 trillion — not billion, $7 trillion with a T — in the Middle East,” Mr. Trump said. “We build a school. They blow it up. We build it again. They blow it up. ...
“But if you want a school in Ohio [to get] some windows, you can’t get the money,” he said. “If you want a school in Pennsylvania or Iowa and you need federal money, you can’t get any money.”
The Council of Economic Advisers estimates a $1.5 trillion investment could boost growth in national gross domestic product by 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent a year and employ 290,000 to 414,000 construction workers over 10 years.
The plan would put up $200 billion in federal funding but would be heavily dependent on $1.3 trillion in state and local government support and private-sector investment to revitalize America’s spirit of ingenuity and imagination.
“It was dormant for many, many years, and now it’s back,” Mr. Trump said. “And we’re trying to have the private sector invest the money. Why the hell should we do it, right?”
While the general idea of infrastructure investment has drawn support across the aisle, the price tag, combined with that of the tax cuts passed last year, have so far kept it from moving.
Democrats have argued that the plan does not include enough federal investment on the front end and fear it would lead to broader privatization of traditionally public assets, leading to more toll roads and bridges.
In addition to dollars, the administration is looking to states like Ohio to loosen licensing requirements for skilled trades to make more lesser-educated workers eligible for such jobs. It also wants to dramatically shorten the time for environmental studies and other permitting processes so that dirt can be moved more quickly.
While a comprehensive infrastructure plan has not moved, the administration is looking at $21 billion included in the recent federal spending law as a down payment to get things started.
Among those in the crowd was Democratic former Toledo area state Rep. Matt Szollosi, who is now executive director of Affiliated Construction Trades of Ohio. The organization broke with much of labor to financially support Mr. Kasich in 2014, in part because of his administration’s leveraging of the Ohio Turnpike and other borrowing to invest heavily in infrastructure.
He said he is “cautiously optimistic” about Mr. Trump’s plans.
“If the initial investment comes from the federal government and is then matched or there’s additional funding from other sources, then we’re hopeful that the overall investment leads to significant job creation for the construction industry,” he said.
Mr. Szollosi said his members don’t care where the money comes from.
“We’re looking for the investment to occur, and our members simply want the opportunity to work and earn a living for our families,”he said.
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