Obama Proposes $50 Billion For Infrastructure

Labor Day is the traditional campaign kick off, and President Obama traveled to Milwaukee, Wisc., to mark the moment Monday. But with the economy still sagging and Democrats looking at dismal poll numbers, it's tough place to start.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And Im Linda Wertheimer. Good morning.

Dont call this a second stimulus, but President Obama is promising another, smaller round of tax cuts and government spending, in hopes of breathing more life into the countrys still-struggling economy.

President BARACK OBAMA: I am going to keep fighting every single day, every single hour...

(Soundbite of cheering)

President OBAMA: ...every single minute, to turn this economy around and put people back to work and renew the American Dream, not just for your family, not just for all our families, but for future generations. That, I can guarantee you.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

WERTHEIMER: That was the Mr. Obama speaking yesterday at a Labor Day picnic in Milwaukee. The president will be making that point a lot this week. He delivers an economic speech in Cleveland tomorrow. And on Friday, he holds a rare White news conference.

Here's NPRs Scott Horsley.

(Soundbite of song, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough")

AMERICAN FEDERATION OF MUSICIANS: (Singing) Aint no mountain high enough...

SCOTT HORSLEY: Members of the American Federation of Musicians provided the soundtrack, as ironworkers, laborers, and electricians milled around the shores of Lake Michigan. The beer and bratwurst are still as tasty as they were on Labor Day 2008, when candidate Obama campaigned here. But in the two years since, the country has faced mountain high unemployment as it struggles to emerge from a low valley of recession.

For steelworker Tim Dulka(ph), who works at Harley Davidson, its been tough.

Mr. TIM DULKA (Steelworker, Harley-Davidson): Were on the roller coaster ride, feeling the affects just like everybody else is in this world, and its a struggle. You know? Glad to be working, for now.

HORSLEY: Many of the workers here who have jobs say they still feel the uncertainty that comes with high unemployment; nearly eight percent in Wisconsin, 9.6 percent nationwide.

The lackluster economy also threatens the jobs of many congressional Democrats this fall. Mr. Obama shed his suit coat and his cool demeanor yesterday, to argue that a return to Republican control of Congress is not what the economy needs.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

President OBAMA: Do we want to go back or do we want to go forward? I say we want to move forward. America always moves forward. We keep moving forward every day.

(Soundbite of applause)

HORSLEY: Tomorrow, Mr. Obama is expected to call for a permanent tax break on research and development, in hopes of spurring innovation and ultimately, more hiring.

Yesterday, he unveiled a $50 billion dollar proposal to invest in the nations transportation network: railroads, airports and highways.

President OBAMA: Over the next six years, we are going to rebuild 150,000 miles of our roads - thats enough to circle the world six times, thats a lot of road.

HORSLEY: You might think truck driver Elmer Jacobson would welcome better highways. But as he swallowed a bite of bratwurst yesterday, Jacobson sounded skeptical.

Mr. ELMER JACOBSON (Truck Driver): I hope it makes it down to the actual workers instead of the administrative people that do the stuff. Seems like the last stimulus package, all it stimulated was bigger government. Not helping no workers, none.

HORSLEY: Jacobson wasnt much more enthusiastic about congressional Republicans, for opposing what the president wants. He wondered whatever happened to the campaign promise of bipartisanship.

Mr. JACOBSON: A lot of people voted for Obama for hope and change. And I dont see any hope or change coming around here.

HORSLEY: Two years ago, organized labor played a big role in Mr. Obamas victory. Union leaders hope to harness some of that same energy this fall, to defend vulnerable congressional Democrats.

Unionized bus driver Dan Prichard and his steelworker father, Paul, both wore stickers yesterday for Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. But neither man sounded ready for a lot of heavy-duty campaigning.

Mr. DAN PRICHARD (Bus Driver): I dont know about knocking on doors. But well be voting. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAUL PRICHARD (Steelworker): And were union. Union workers usually vote Democratic.

HORSLEY: As for the presidents infrastructure plan, its not clear Congress is in any mood to spend more money, though the White House insists it would not add to the deficit.

Even if the plan were approved, it wouldnt make a dent in the unemployment rate before November. The best Mr. Obama can hope for is to persuade voters hes working on the economy, and that Democrats plans will pay off, if given a little more time.

Scott Horsley, NPR news, Milwaukee.

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