On a muggy Thursday afternoon on the First Coast, speaking at the Jacksonville Port Authority (JaxPort), President Barack Obama shined a national spotlight on Jacksonville’s logistics industry -- but in the process, gave Gov. Rick Scott zero credit for Florida's economic turnaround.
“We have to do what you do here in JaxPort, which is build America’s future,” Obama said in his speech. Obama stressed the important role of ports and logistics in America‘s economy. “We need more ports so we can move more goods, made in America, out to the rest of the world.”
Clearly perspiring in the Florida heat, Obama had no jacket on, his shirt sleeves rolled up as he called for more infrastructure investment to create jobs and strengthen the middle class.
Noting the Panama Canal expansion will soon be completed, Obama said this offered a great opportunity to rebuild infrastructure as larger ships will have greater access to ports on the Atlantic seaboard and on the Gulf of Mexico. “Those supertankers can hold three times the amount of cargo,” Obama said about ships that could soon be docking in Jacksonville. “We want the supertankers coming here to Jacksonville.”
Obama insisted that increased port activity would lead to more economic opportunity across the First Coast. “If we get more supertankers here, that means more jobs in the terminal,” he said before adding it would also lead to more logistics, construction and service jobs across the area.
Stressing America was facing competition in the global economy, Obama said if infrastructure investments are not made, other countries could benefit with companies docking there. “They’ll go to Brazil or some other place,” Obama said.
Pointing to his record in the White House, Obama pointed to an executive order he signed and took some credit for ports in the Southeast speeding up their efforts to get ready for the Panama Canal expansion. “I sped up the permitting process that gets workers breaking ground on projects like this one,” he said. Obama insisted his executive order helped lure investment. “Private companies came on board here in JaxPort.”
Obama offered a grave warning about what would happen without more infrastructure. He said “old roads” and “out of date ports” would lead to less investment and fewer jobs. Noting infrastructure investments were a smaller part of the economy now than they had been 20 years ago, Obama warned other nations -- he singled out China and Germany -- could benefit. “We’re lagging behind,” he insisted.
Pointing to the large number of unemployed construction workers, Obama said now was the time to increase investments in infrastructure and noted Republicans controlling the U.S. House are in the way.
Obama called for more infrastructure investments and putting politics aside. “Let’s get past party politics and do it,” he said.
Noting Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president, Obama praised him for supporting internal improvements at the federal government’s expense despite leading the nation through the Civil War.
Promising to focus on repairing American infrastructure in the 1,266 remaining days of his presidency, Obama recieved cheers for his speech.
He tried to walk a tightrope between sounding a bipartisan note in Jacksonville, a traditional Republican stronghold in Florida, and lashing out at the GOP-controlled House as a roadblock to more infrastructure investment.
Republicans quickly fired back at the president. The Republican National Committee (RNC) noted that Obama had made similiar speeches throughout his presidency and even before he was elected.
U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla, also took aim at the president on Thursday and gave credit to Gov. Rick Scott and Republicans in Tallahassee for the state’s economic turnaround.
“Since December 2010, Florida’s unemployment rate has fallen by 4 percentage points, versus 1.7 points for the national rate,” Rooney said. “Why is President Obama coming here to lecture us on job creation? Shouldn’t he be listening to our state’s leaders and learning what it takes to create jobs, grow the economy and attract business investment? I’d love to see the president take some lessons back to the White House from Florida on keeping taxes low, getting rid of unnecessary regulations, and encouraging business growth rather than punishing success.”
Obama clearly had transportation on his mind as he had newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Joe York, who took over as JaxPort board chairman at the start of the month, in tow. Other attendees included U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla, and Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.
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