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POLITICS: White House

Obama pushes $50 billion stimulus plan as automatic budget cuts loom

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Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Politics Digest

The White House on Wednesday pushed for tens of billions of dollars in stimulus funding for decaying roads and bridges, a request dismissed by Republicans as not serious amid the broader debate over spending cuts in Washington.

The plan outlined by administration officials Wednesday calls for $50 billion in spending on highways, transit systems and airports, part of the president's push for a wave of new government investments. Like other ideas touted in President Obama's State of the Union address, it lacks a payment plan.

The president is attempting to rebrand the infrastructure blueprint. Noticeably absent from the proposal are the words stimulus or shovel-ready, phrases that have become lightning rods for conservatives because of their association with the $800 billion spending program pushed by Obama early in his first term. But with Obama describing the $85 billion in cuts scheduled for March 1 as cataclysmic, critics question how he can simultaneously push for $50 billion worth of projects similar to those that failed to jump-start the economy in 2009.

"This is more evidence that the president doesn't understand Washington's spending problem," Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, told The Washington Examiner. "Amazingly, more stimulus spending has been a part of nearly every White House so-called deficit reduction proposal."

Obama's "fix it first" policy would devote $40 billion to infrastructure projects "most in need of repair." The blueprint also calls for an infrastructure bank, which would leverage private and public investments to complete stalled projects, and the easing of bureaucratic red tape.

Obama made a similar proposal in his opening gambit to avert the so-called fiscal cliff at the start of the year. The idea went nowhere, and Republicans on Wednesday dismissed the latest proposal as dead on arrival. But Obama is hoping to shame conservatives into backing his plan this time around.

"I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts," he told lawmakers during the State of the Union. "I've seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings."

Supporters say that Obama's proposals would create thousands of jobs. But critics point to the president's $800 billion stimulus package, which included $48 billion in funding for transportation projects, as proof that the latest incarnation of stimulus funding would become another big-government failure.

"Last time they pushed shovel-ready jobs, they realized they weren't that shovel ready," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. "They're speaking out of both sides of their mouth, saying we have a spending problem and then saying we need more money for spending."

Conservatives also said that another push for stimulus spending would do little to endear Obama to Republicans during an impasse over looming spending cuts.

"This administration wonders why it lacks the bipartisan support or ability to form coalitions?" GOP consultant Brian Donahue asked. "This administration continues to run roughshod over all interests."

The president is attempting to put a second-term shine on a policy push that had mixed results during his first four years in office. After pushing through his stimulus bill, Obama predicted a wave of new construction jobs and significant improvements to local roads and bridges.

But amid widespread public backlash to the stimulus, Obama ultimately conceded, "Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected."

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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