by Jeanie Riess
President Barack Obama used the Port of New Orleans as a backdrop today to push for more spending on infrastructure and to create more American jobs.
By closing useless tax loopholes, the President said, and by investing that money in infrastructure like transportation, the country will be able to create more jobs and increase exports, helping achieve a goal the president outlined in 2010: to double U.S. exports in five years.
With the expansion of the Panama Canal scheduled for completion in 2015, Obama said he wants to make sure the Port of New Orleans and other U.S. export hubs are prepared for the new burdens the waterway will impose, including bigger supertankers that will be able to hold three times the cargo they can today. “Why wouldn’t we put people to work upgrading them?" Obama asked of the ports.
Dan Packer, Chairman of the Commission of the Port of New Orleans, told Gambit he was pleased with the President’s remarks, though he would have liked federal funding for projects like expanding the New Orleans container port to be more secure. “I know they’re working on it,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve come to a conclusion on that yet.”
“It’s a good story,” Packer added. “The ports in America are some of the most important parts of our economic system. You look at the five ports between the bottom of the Mississippi River and Baton Rouge, that’s the longest port system in the world. And we move a lot of cargo.”
Obama used the talk to push three important pieces of legislation: a Farm Bill, which the president argued is not just for farmers, but also for port employees (about 60 percent of American corn floats down the Mississippi River); comprehensive immigration reform, which he argued is vital to American security and the economy; and the creation of a responsible budget.
Though Obama’s remarks were focused mainly on the port and how it fits into broader goals for the American economy, the President used his visit to New Orleans to address other issues pertinent to the city and to the state of Louisiana. He commended Mayor Mitch Landrieu, for example, on investing in public education, and he talked about expanding Medicaid to uninsured Louisiana residents.
Obama’s visit was seen by some as a way of distracting the public from problems with the Affordable Care Act — specifically the well-publicized, wide-ranging problems with its website — but the president raised the issue himself. “But to every American with a preexisting condition who’s been waiting for the day they could be covered just like everybody else,” Obama said, “and for folks who couldn’t afford to buy their own insurance because they don't get it on the job, we’re going to fix the website. Because the insurance plans are there.”
Sen. Mary Landrieu, who flew with the President from Washington D.C. on Air Force One, was absent from the president’s public appearance, touring other parts of the state. (GOP groups flooded inboxes this morning noting her absence.) The president spoke kind words on behalf of the senator, who is up for reelection in 2014, stating, “Nobody is a tougher advocate on behalf of the working people of Louisiana than Sen. Landrieu.”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu also spoke at the event, cheering on the efforts of New Orleans’ rebuilding. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx introduced himself to the audience, as did U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, Louisiana’s only Democrat in the House. Gov. Bobby Jindal was present, but stayed out of the limelight and made no public comment.