Obama Stresses Need For Infrastructure Repairs

To make the point that America's infrastructure is in need of repair and the federal government should do it, President Obama traveled to the Brent Spence Bridge. It runs over the Ohio River, and it connects House Speaker John Boehner's Ohio to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's Kentucky. Melissa Block talks to NPR's Ari Shapiro for more.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

President Obama talked about bridge-building today, literally. And to do that, he picked a spot that takes a symbolic dig at his political opponents. The president stood in front of the Brent Spence Bridge, which spans the Ohio River. At one end, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's home state of Kentucky. The other end is a few minutes' drive from House Speaker John Boehner's district in Ohio. The bridge itself is described by locals and experts as functionally obsolete.

President Obama says there are thousands of sites like it across the country where unemployed construction workers could get back on the job.

NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us from Cincinnati. And, Ari, tell us more about the significance of this bridge.

ARI SHAPIRO: Well, as you mentioned, locally it connects Ohio to Kentucky. But nationally, it really connects the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. About four percent of the country's gross domestic product crosses the bridge every day. It was designed to carry 85,000 vehicles today, but today it gets more than twice that. The shoulders have been turned into traffic lanes, so when there's an accident, traffic backs up for a mile or more.

President Obama argues that upgrading bridges like this one is a short-term investment for the country's long-term benefit. And he says if we don't spend this kind of money now, the country will pay more down the road in lost productivity.

BLOCK: And, Ari, how does this fit into the president's larger push for jobs and deficit reduction?

SHAPIRO: Well, for the last few weeks he's been making trips emphasizing different parts of his job creation/deficit reduction plan. He spoke at a school about employment for teachers. He spoke at a small business about tax breaks for employers. Today, the focus is infrastructure. And, of course, at all of these stops there has been a campaign-like refrain of Pass This Bill, with the audience shouting along with him.

Here's part of what he said this afternoon here in Cincinnati.

SHAPIRO: Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Help us rebuild America. Help us put construction workers back to work. Pass this bill.

BLOCK: And what's the Republican response to that call?

SHAPIRO: Well, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky spoke on the Senate floor this morning. He says he would love to see the bridge rebuilt but doesn't think this bill - what he calls a second stimulus - will do the trick. He says President Obama talked about rebuilding bridges when he pushed the first stimulus bill and it never happened.

NORRIS: If a bridge needs fixing, by all means, let's fix it. But don't tell us we need to pass a half a trillion dollar stimulus bill and accept job-killing tax hikes to do it. Don't tell the people of Kentucky they need to finance every turtle tunnel and solar panel company on some bureaucrat's wish list in order to get their bridges fixed.

BLOCK: Ari, this event from the president today wasn't an official campaign rally. It did have the feel of one. How does it fit into President Obama's re-election strategy?

SHAPIRO: Well, yeah. It sure did have the feel of one. You can hear the music behind me. You know, Ohio is a state President Obama needs to win in 2012. His popularity here is not what it once was. And it's no coincidence that his other job creation speeches have been in swing states. He was in Raleigh, North Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Virginia.

Today's event, I saw a lot of union T-shirts, student groups - the kinds of voters he needs to energize if he wants to win a second term in office. He's holding this event at a concrete company with a picturesque view of the bridge that could get a lot of new jobs if this bill passes.

You know, the company is owned by a Republican but he certainly wouldn't mind having the opportunity to hire some more people.

BLOCK: OK. Ari, thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro, traveling with the president today in Cincinnati.

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