US President Barack Obama sought to put aside turmoil with the rollout of the federal health insurance marketplace by focusing on the billions of dollars in public investments he says the US needs to boost the economy.
Speaking on Friday at the Port of New Orleans, Obama urged Congress to get past partisan battles and pass a budget that increases spending on science, research and education, and upgrades roads, bridges and ports.
“That creates jobs, it puts people to work,” he said. These are “not partisan issues, they are American issues.”
Obama also prodded lawmakers to pass a farm bill and immigration legislation, two items on his agenda that he has said he wants finished by the end of the year.
Lawmakers are negotiating a budget deal before the current spending authorization runs out on Jan. 15.
Obama returned to economic matters after weeks of criticism over a faulty start for the government Web site where Americans can shop for health coverage and a wave of dissent from Democrats as well as Republicans over cancellations of individual insurance plans for hundreds of thousands of people.
The president briefly addressed the issues surrounding the Affordable Health Care Act, the signature legislative achievement of his first term, saying that the online portal will be fixed and that ultimately most people will find more comprehensive and more affordable insurance.
Obama spoke a few hours after the Labor Department reported that US employers added 204,000 workers to payrolls last month, more than economists projected. The growth occurred in the same month as a 16-day partial government shutdown caused by a standoff between the White House and congressional Republicans over the budget and raising the federal debt ceiling.
Obama said exports can help drive future economic growth. In 2010, the president announced an initiative to double US exports between 2009 to next year, to US$3.14 trillion. They totaled US$2.2 trillion last year.
The Port of New Orleans, at the mouth of the Mississippi River, is the fifth-largest US port as measured by tonnage handled, said Matthew Gresham, a spokesman for the New Orleans Port Authority. The port’s cargo business generated about 160,000 jobs and US$17 billion in spending statewide, a port authority fact sheet said.
Exports through New Orleans have climbed by 140 percent since 2009, the White House said in a statement.
Major products flowing through the port include steel, rubber, coffee, containers, chemicals, metals, forest, farm and manufactured goods. The port’s facilities serve an average of 1,800 vessels, and it has the world’s longest wharf that is more than 3km long.
The Obama administration is negotiating two new trade agreements, one among Pacific nations, and the other with European nations, that if approved would increase US sales of goods and services abroad, adding jobs.
To make the US more competitive, Obama has proposed a US$50 billion program for infrastructure spending to upgrade the nation’s bridges, roads and ports.
He has also proposed a “Fix It First” program that would identify projects needing the most urgent upgrades. His push is meant to lure additional private capital to help repair aging public works projects.