A broken-down bridge over the Ohio River has become a battleground for the economic and job growth discussions taking place in Washington.
In an effort to market his jobs proposal, President Obama visited the Brent Spence Bridge south of Cincinnati Thursday. The bridge links the home states of Obama’s congressional rivals, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Obama was visiting to rally support for his jobs proposal, which includes $447 billion in tax cuts, jobless aid and public works projects. However, the location he chose is getting more attention than his speech.
With the backdrop of the decrepit bridge punctuating his speech, Obama has sent a clear political message to the two GOP leaders who say they have had enough with the political games.
"I would suggest, Mr. President, that you think about ways to actually help the people of Kentucky and Ohio, instead of how you can use their roads and bridges as a backdrop for making a political point," McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday morning, according to The Associated Press. "If you really want to help our state, then come back to Washington and work with Republicans on legislation that will actually do something to revive our economy and create jobs, and forget the political theater."
However, the White House insists the visit is not a political maneuver.
“It [the Brent Spence Bridge] desperately needs rebuilding, as do substandard roads and bridges all across America,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said to FOX News.
“As the two most powerful Republicans in Washington, Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell can either kill this jobs bill or help the president pass it right away,” Brundage said.
“Instead of looking for every excuse to justify doing nothing about the damaged infrastructure in their states, we believe it’s in their interest and the country’s interest to act as soon as possible and put people back to work.”
The bridge spans 830 feet and has been deemed “outdated.” It opened in November 1963, a few days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and is not designed to handle the current level of traffic it receives.
Obama hopes his visit will encourage Congress to understand why they should back his proposal for investing billions of dollars in job-creating infrastructure projects. The trip also serves as an opportunity for Obama to raise his approval ratings in Ohio. He carried the state in 2008, but George W. Bush received the vote in both the 2000 and 2004 elections.
"All across those states there are roads, bridges [and] schools that unemployed construction workers could be building right now if the Republican leaders in Congress were willing to work with the president and the Democrats to do something that would create jobs in the economy," White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer told CBS News.
Both Boehner and McConnell are aware of the dilapidated bridge and have supported repairing it.
However, as staunch opponents of public unions, Obama’s strategy is seen as a slap in the face. Under the Davis–Bacon Act that was passed in 1931, a certain percentage of workers on a federal public works project must be unionized and receive union pay. This would raise the cost of repairing the bridge.
“The speaker, like everyone in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky, knows how important this bridge is,” Brittany Bramell, a spokeswoman for Boehner, told FOX News. “That’s why a replacement project is already under way.”
“But due in part to bureaucratic and environmental requirements, it’s at least four years away from being ‘shovel-ready’ – which begs the question: ‘Why is the president suggesting it can create jobs now?’”