NEW ORLEANS – Dwarfed by cranes and cargo containers at the Port of New Orleans, President Barack Obama called for more government spending on major infrastructure projects as an economic recipe that could have ripple effects on employment.
Obama addressed job growth on a day the government released surprisingly strong hiring numbers for October. Still, Obama said, there was “no question” that last month’s partial government shutdown hurt the nation’s jobs market.
“We should be building, not tearing things down,” he said, with the dim roar of machinery in the distance.
Obama has been pressing Congress to include spending for roads, bridges, airports and ports during budget negotiations. Such projects usually have bipartisan support, but talks have stumbled over how to pay for the cost.
But Obama also used his appearance to push other items on his agenda, including health care and passage of a farm bill that has been caught in a dispute over spending for food stamps.
The legislation, he said, “is not something that just benefits farmers.”
“Ports like this one depend on all the products coming down the Mississippi,” he said.
And with Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal in the audience, Obama chided state Republican leaders who have failed to take advantage of a provision in his health care to expand Medicaid to cover more of the working poor. He said such expansion would benefit 265,000 people in Louisiana.
“So we want to work with everybody — mayor, governor, insurance — whoever it is that wants to work with us here in Louisiana to make sure that even if you don’t support the overall plan, let’s at least go ahead and make sure that the folks who don’t have health insurance right now and can get it through an expanded Medicaid, let’s make sure we do that,” he said.
Obama conceded that the health care law’s enrolment period has been marred by a trouble-plagued launch of the HealthCare.gov website.
“I wanted to go in and fix it myself, but I don’t write code,” he joked.
The president spoke hours after the Labor Department reported that the economy added 204,000 jobs in October. The burst of hiring was surprising given that the government was partially shut down for more than two weeks.
Obama did not specifically say how the job market had been hurt during the shutdown. But he said additional economic data still to be released before the end of the year could show the effects.
After his speech, Obama was flying to the Miami area for three Democratic fundraisers. He planned to stay overnight in Florida.