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Obama Unveils Huge Jobs and Infrastructure Plan
WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama unveiled plans Monday to spend at least 50 billion dollars to expand and renew US roads, railways and airports, in a fresh bid to fire up sluggish economic growth.
Obama, under intense pressure over November's mid-term congressional elections, in which his Democrats fear heavy losses, was set to formally make the announcement in a speech in Wisconsin, an official said.
The event, marking Labor Day, the traditional kick-off for US election campaigns, heralds a week in which Obama also travels to another struggling state, Ohio, and holds a press conference in a bid to ease his political woes.
A White House official said that the "bold" infrastructure plan will be front-loaded, target six years of investments and make significant progress in the first year, in a bid to stimulate the sagging economy and create jobs.
It appeared unlikely however that Obama could get the plan passed through Congress before the mid-term elections, which are effectively a referendum on Democratic economic management and a 9.6 percent unemployment rate.
Opposition Republicans who slammed Obama's 800-billion-dollar stimulus plan as a failure are also likely to hammer the proposed new investment as another example of the government doling out taxpayer dollars to little effect.
On Wednesday, in Cleveland, Ohio, Obama is expected to unveil another plank of his revised economic strategy, a series of tax breaks for small businesses worth 100 billion dollars.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Obama plan unveiled Monday would front-load 50 billion dollars of investment to jumpstart job creation.
The administration would work with Congress to offset the spending in other areas, to ensure it does not further inflate the budget deficit, the official said.
The plan, to be announced at the Milwaukee Laborfest, a union gathering, also targets improvements to the US air traffic control system, an acceleration of high-speed rail projects, and establishes an "Infrastructure Bank" to coordinate federal funding and planning for projects.
Critics have long complained that the US highway system is crumbling and suffers from underinvestment, so Obama will target modernizations which could quickly employ jobless workers while improving the US transportation backbone.
The White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said Obama would propose making a major new investment in the rail and transit system, including an overhaul of creaking Amtrak rolling stock.
The plan also envisages an overhaul of technology used in the crowded US air traffic control system, including the use of satellite surveillance, which it said could reduce travel delays and airport noise.
On Saturday, Obama vowed to expand a prosperous middle class and help his compatriots achieve the American Dream.
"This Labor Day, we should recommit ourselves to our time-honored values and to this fundamental truth: to heal our economy, we need more than a healthy stock market; we need bustling main streets and a growing, thriving middle class," he said in his weekly radio address.
The comments came after a new Labor Department report released Friday showed the economy lost 54,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate edged up to 9.6 percent.
Although the job losses were much less than the 120,000 slump expected by Wall Street economists, hiring was not substantial enough to help millions of crisis-hit Americans to return to work.