President Obama is expected to focus on the need for infrastructure investments in his fifth State of the Union address Tuesday night amid a sluggish economic backdrop.
A White House official said Monday that the core of the president’s speech will center on ways to spur the economy and create jobs to help define his second term in office.
He said the President hopes infrastructure investments will be one agenda item that can attract bipartisan support among an otherwise highly-polarized Congress.
Obama also is expected to describe his vision for investments in manufacturing, clean energy and education.
“You will hear the President talk about what he thinks and what most people of goodwill would think would be some common sense measures that we can take to try to address some of the challenges we that we have when it comes to infrastructure,” the White House official said. “As people have been saying in this town for a long time, there is no such thing as a Democratic or Republican bridge. Part of this is going to be the president laying out some ideas that are proven and that should be able to earn bipartisan support.”
Obama’s focus on infrastructure investment is hardly new. In Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address, he emphasized the need for spending on high-speed rail and other infrastructure programs, as well education and energy research, to improve America’s competitiveness for what he called a down payment on his “Sputnik moment” agenda to win the future.
In last year’s State of the Union, Obama proposed to use the money saved from ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for high-speed rail and repairing the country’s aging infrastructure.
His budget requests have repeatedly called for the creation of, and funding for an infrastructure bank as well as for high-speed rail.
However, Obama’s push for infrastructure investments is likely to face an uphill battle. Republicans have historically been stridently opposed to high-speed rail funding, calling it a waste of money in especially tight budget environments.
And though there is more support for an infrastructure bank, legislative proposals never move forward.
The president will lay out ideas in areas where some common ground already exists — immigration reform and gun control — as a way to expand on his second-term agenda, the White House official said.
“By highlighting that common ground, the president doesn’t expect that all the debates and arguments are going to stop, but he does expect that Congress will look at that common ground and seize that opportunity to act and move the nation forward,” he said.
The president’s address to the nation comes at a time when he and Congress still need to resolve a series of fiscal crises including how to avoid the upcoming automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, pass a continuing resolution after the current one expires on March 27 and increase the nation’s debt ceiling.
Obama is expected to talk about the need to deal with the nation’s deficit in a balanced way that includes spending cuts and revenues.
“You can certainly expect that the president will continue to make that case that we can’t just cut our way out of these deficit challenges,” the White House official said.
A new Pew Research poll found that 74% of Americans this year say a combination of program cuts and tax increases is the best way to reduce the national deficit. The same survey also found that reducing the deficit has skyrocketed, to 72% this year from 53% in 2009 as a top priority that Americans are concerned.
The White House official said that the federal budget deficit is another area where there has been some bipartisan breakthrough, referring to some Senators who have acknowledged that the sequester could be dealt with through another delay and more revenue, as well as spending cuts.
“We can put the sequester off for a few more months and we can buy it down in a balanced way, but not just turn it off,” he said. “We can give Congress the time it needs to go through regular order, to pass some budgets and consider these through the regular committee process and hopefully end up in a place where we have a large balanced, deal along the lines of what the president himself laid out.”
The sequestration cuts, which are triggered March 1 and scheduled to take affect March 27 if Congress doesn’t act, would include reductions in subsidy payments for issuers of Build America Bonds.