On Labor Day, Obama Pushes New Jobs Program

In the midst of dire predictions for Democrats in November, President Obama spent part of his Labor Day in Milwaukee — part of a week he'll spend promoting new initiatives to boost the economy. On Monday, the president called for spending an extra $50 billion on the nation's roads and railways, in hopes of putting more Americans back to work. Robert Siegel talks to NPR's Scott Horsley.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, Labor Day, is often thought of as the real beginning of the campaign season. Not that the candidates haven't been running, but voters are now finished with vacations and presumably more tuned in to politics. In the midst of dire predictions for Democrats in November, President Obama spent part of his Labor Day in Milwaukee. It's part of a week he'll spend promoting new initiatives to boost the economy.

At a Labor Day celebration, the president called for spending an extra $50 billion on the nation's roads and railways in hopes of putting more Americans back to work.

(Soundbite of applause)

President BARACK OBAMA: The folks here in the trades know what I'm talking about. Nearly one in five construction workers are unemployed - one in five. Nobody has been hit harder than construction workers. And a lot of those folks, they had lost their jobs in manufacturing and went into construction, now they've lost their jobs again. It doesn't do anybody any good when so many hardworking Americans have been idle for months, even years, at a time when there's so much of America that needs rebuilding.

SIEGEL: NPR's Scott Horsley was with the president in Wisconsin. He joins us now. And, Scott, as we said, Mr. Obama will be talking about the economy for much of this week. What did he have to say today?

SCOTT HORSLEY: Well, Robert, he hit on a usual theme of his, which is that the troubles of the middle class in America didn't just begin with this recession. They date back long before that. But this recession has made those problems more urgent. That's why he's now calling for a new round of government spending on the transportation network, rebuilt roads, railroads, airports. And while aides say this would be a multiyear effort, he does want to jumpstart it with $50 billion in the first year.

Pres. OBAMA: This will not only create jobs immediately, it's also going to make our economy hum over the long haul. It's a plan that history tells us can and should attract bipartisan support. It's a plan that says even in the aftermath of the worst recession in our lifetimes, America can still shape our own destiny.

HORSLEY: And, Robert, the president will have more to say on the economy Wednesday when he delivers a speech in Cleveland. There, he's expected to propose an expansion of the research and development tax credit.

SIEGEL: Scott, what was the significance of having the kickoff of this week in Milwaukee?

HORSLEY: Well, President Obama campaigned here as candidate Obama on Labor Day two years ago, just before the financial crisis really began. It's also the case that Milwaukee's and Wisconsin's manufacturing sector have held up better than much of the industrial sector of the country. Unemployment here in Wisconsin is actually a little under eight percent compared to 9.6 percent nationwide.

And, Robert, would it surprise you to know that politics may also be playing a role here? There's some very competitive races in Wisconsin. And Mr. Obama wants to help his fellow Democrats.

SIEGEL: Organized labor was an important contributor to President Obama's own election two years ago. Are unions expected to play a big role in this year's midterm elections?

HORSLEY: They would certainly like to. Organized labor has not gotten everything it wants out of this administration and this Democratic Congress. But they feel their chances are better with the Democrats than with the Republicans. And so AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says they're going to be knocking on doors, leafleting in 26 states this fall.

SIEGEL: NPR's Scott Horsley in Milwaukee, where the president spoke today. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Robert.

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