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CINCINNATI — President Barack Obama’s visit to Ohio on Thursday, his second in nine days, was about more than building a new bridge over the Ohio River.
It was about building a bridge between Republicans and Democrats in Congress nearly 500 miles away in Washington and sending a message to two specific lawmakers whose home states lie on both ends of the Brent Spence Bridge — U.S. Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.).
The President challenged Republicans’ argument that his plan to enact a minimum tax for wealthy Ohions to help pay for his job-creation package and to help to reduce the national debt amounts to class warfare.
“You know what? If asking a billionaire to pay their fair share of taxes, to pay the same tax rate as a plumber, is class warfare, then, you know what, I’m a warrior for the middle class…,” he said to cheers from the crowd.
“The only warfare I’ve seen is the battle against the middle class over the last 10, 15 years.”
Mr. Obama spoke for just 21 minutes at a riverfront concrete plant with his back to the 48-year-old, double-decker bridge that carries both I-71 and I-75, among the busiest arteries in the nation, over the river. He held the steel and concrete span out as an example of a project that could benefit from his proposed $447 billion American Jobs Act, a package of payroll tax cuts for individuals and businesses and new spending for infrastructure, local government budgets, housing rehabilitation, and unemployment benefits.
Ohio would be expected to draw about $3.6 billion from the spending side of that equation.
“There are bridges and railways and highways like that throughout the region…,” Mr. Obama said. “Another aging bridge that crosses the Ohio River at Ironton could be replaced right now. There are rail stations in Cleveland and Toledo in desperate need of repair. The same is true in cities all across America.
“It makes our commute longer and costs businesses billions of dollars,” he said.
Traffic routinely backs up at the bridge, which carries nearly twice the traffic it was originally designed to handle. The National Bridge Inventory has deemed it to be functionally obsolete.
Ironically, Mr. Obama’s visit added to the traffic headaches he cited, as the bridge was shut down to vehicles heading in his direction as the President’s motorcade and police escort arrived and departed.
Replacing the Brent Spence Bridge and creating new approaches would cost an estimated $2.4 billion, only a fraction of which has so far been secured.
Mr. Obama’s jobs package proposes $50 billion nationally for highway, transit, rail, and aviation infrastructure improvements. Ohio’s share would be an estimated $1.1 billion that the White House contends would support an estimated 13,700 jobs.
Mr. Obama’s proposal has shown little momentum as Republicans question both the spending side of the ledger and the President’s proposal to pay for it with tax hikes for the wealthy beginning 2013 and yet unspecified cuts in spending elsewhere.
They’ve also argued that Mr. Obama’s use of the Brent Spence Bridge as his poster-bridge is misplaced since the construction timetable may not have the construction phase, the real job-creating phase, ready to go until as late as 2015. The point of Mr. Obam-30a’s proposal is to create jobs now.
As even Mr. Obama noted Thursday, the process would be a competitive one run by the states. There would be no guarantee that this specific project would be funded.
“While I was pleased to see President Obama recognizing the significance of the Brent Spence Bridge project, his administration made it clear that his recent focus on the bridge is sadly nothing more than a political ploy to pressure Republicans into supporting yet another stimulus plan…,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, a Cincinnati Republican. “There’s nothing in the so-called jobs plan that indicates money will be spend on the Brent Spence Project.”
He noted that no money from Mr. Obama’s prior stimulus package in 2009 of nearly $800 billion made its way to the project.
Last week, Mr. Obama visited a Columbus school to promote aspects of his jobs package that would invest in renovation of the nation’s aging schools as well as aid to governments to avoid layoffs of teachers, police, and firefighters.