COLUMBUS - Saying Ohioans are building their future as they rebuild their roads, President Obama briefly set foot on Buckeye soil Friday for the start of the 10,000th project funded by federal stimulus dollars.
Bulldozers, hard hats, and an orange construction sign proclaiming "Putting Americans Back to Work" was on display as the President touted the $787 billion package, passed almost solely with Democratic votes last year and portrayed by Republicans as Exhibit A for deficit spending.
"Repairing our existing infrastructure is not enough. We can't build an economy that sustains our kids and grandkids just by relying on the infrastructure that we inherited from our parents and grandparents," Mr. Obama told a small crowd of mostly construction workers and media.
He was at the site just outside downtown Columbus for about 15 minutes, arguing that the nation's economy is rebounding.
"I'm under no illusion that we're where we need to be yet," he said. "I know a lot of families have yet to feel the effects of the recovery in their own lives. There are still too many people here in Ohio and across the country who can't find work. …"
The stop at the project, tied to an expansion of Nationwide Children's Hospital, kicked off a tour by the President and his administration to promote summer construction jobs funded by stimulus money. The tour will take Vice President Joe Biden to Midland, Mich., for Monday's groundbreaking of an advanced battery manufacturing facility.
The crowd chuckled as Mr. Obama paraphrased Mr. Biden. "This is a big deal," he said, omitting the expletive Mr. Biden had used, unaware he was wired for sound.
Mr. Obama's brief appearance occurred just hours after Ohio announced that May's unemployment rate had fallen to 10.7 percent from April's 10.9 percent. The rate is a full point higher than the U.S. average.
State Auditor Mary Taylor, running mate of Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich, suggested the stimulus package is largely creating jobs in government, not the private sector.
"If I could be so bold as to say that I could recommend to the President and to the governor that they might better use their time plugging the oil well and plugging the budget hole," she told reporters in a conference call. "Quite frankly, what we have in Ohio and what we have in this country is a lack of leadership and misplaced priorities."
To date, Ohio has received $1.5 billion in transportation stimulus dollars. The Department of Transportation said that as of May, some 7,000 construction workers were receiving paychecks worth $8.5 billion thanks to the stimulus investment.
The $15 million road project that Mr. Obama called a milestone just east of downtown is expected to gain 325 construction jobs. The road, sidewalk, signaling, and other improvements are linked to Nationwide Children's Hospital's project that includes a $740 million pediatric care and research facility to open in 2012.
"This is more than just a project to repair a road," Mr. Obama said. "It's a partnership to transform a community. … The city's using the recovery dollars to rebuild the infrastructure, and because of that, in part, the hospital is expanding its operations to take better care of more children here in Columbus and Ohio, which means they're hiring more people. Together, you're bringing more than 2,300 new jobs. …"
The visit was Mr. Obama's eighth since taking office to a key state. It was his second stop in Columbus to praise the stimulus package.
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