TARRYTOWN, N.Y. — With New York's aging Tappan Zee Bridge looming behind him, President Barack Obama on Wednesday challenged congressional Republicans to spend more money on the nation's crumbling roads, see-through bridges and outdated ports or face losing businesses to other countries.
"We've got ports that aren't ready for the next generation of cargo ships," Obama said against a backdrop of cranes that are being used to replace the 58-year-old Tappan Zee. "We've got more than 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare."
Obama used the major Hudson River crossing point north of New York City and its $3.9 billion replacement project to illustrate a fast-track system he initiated that he said cut the permitting time from five years to 18 months.
He blamed Republicans for not authorizing more money for construction and repairs, and warned that without congressional action, the Highway Trust Fund, used to pay for transportation projects, will run dry. He accused Republicans of voting against additional spending even as they gladly show up at ribbon-cutting ceremonies for projects they refused to finance.
"They are more interested in saying 'no' because they are worried that maybe they'd have to be at a bill signing with me," Obama said.
Republicans contended Obama was hypocritical for claiming credit for the expedited permitting process while his administration has yet to decide the fate of a proposed Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline. The GOP is using that up-in-the-air project to bash Democrats ahead of the November elections.
"It's a real challenge to listen to the president talk about reforming the permitting system when he's been sitting on the permit for the country's largest shovel-ready infrastructure program, the Keystone XL pipeline, for five years," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Obama noted that over the past 50 years, the United States' spending on transportation as a share of the economy has shrunk by 50 percent while European countries are spending twice as much.
"We shouldn't watch the top-rated airports and seaports, or the fastest rail lines or fastest Internet networks get built somewhere else," he said. "They need to be built right here in New York, right here in the United States."
Obama was introduced by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is high on Democrats' list of potential candidates to succeed Obama in 2016. Cuomo credited Obama for the advanced work on the bridge replacement, which is being financed largely by bonds paid for through higher tolls.
"This is a bridge that symbolizes what was and what can be," Cuomo said.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx kicked off the public works push Monday, warning that the Highway Trust Fund, which relies on gasoline taxes, could run dry in August. Those taxes haven't gone up in 20 years.
Half of the administration's $302 billion transportation plan would be in addition to the programs paid for with fuel taxes. That extra spending would come from revenue raised by closing what the administration says are corporate tax loopholes and making other changes in business taxes, a long shot in a politically divided Congress.