By Justin Sink
President Obama accused Republicans of taking credit for transportation projects they refused to fund as he pressed Congress for more federal infrastructure spending in a speech Wednesday.
"Instead of making investments that grow our economy by growing the middle class, they're still convinced that prosperity trickles down from the very top," Obama told a crowd gathered at the Tappan Zee bridge outside New York City, the site of a $3.9 billion, federally backed construction project.
Obama accused congressional Republicans of refusing to vote for transportation projects because they were afraid of the political fallout. He said they had injected politics into an issue where both parties had found common ground in the past.
"They're more interested in saying no because they're worried that maybe, you know, they'd have to be at a bill signing with me, than they are in actually doing a job that they know would be good for America," Obama said.
"It's time for folks to stop running around saying what's wrong with America. Roll up your sleeves and let's get to work and help America rebuild," he continued.
The Tappan Zee replacement project will be New York state’s first new bridge in 50 years, and is designed to ease congestion and improve safety.
Obama argued those types of infrastructure improvements were crucial to growing the economy and accused Republicans of being more interested in tax cuts for the wealthy.
The bridge was highlighted by the White House because construction began early thanks to an expedited permitting process. The president said he would implement similar reforms to other major transportation projects.
"We're cutting bureaucratic red tape that stalls good projects from breaking ground," Obama said.
Under the new permitting guidelines, departments within the administration will be required to improve coordination and reduce the amount of time the government takes to resolve interagency disputes. The new rules will also ask federal agencies to undertake synchronized, simultaneous reviews of projects.
That means one environmental analysis could satisfy requirements for multiple agencies involved in project construction, rather than requiring contractors to redo work.
The administration will also expand the use of an online “dashboard” that serves as a central clearinghouse for the permitting process across the government. And the administration is setting up an “improvement center” dedicated to implementing the reforms within each federal agency.
"We are aiming to put every major infrastructure project on a public dashboard, so everybody can go online, track our progress, hold us accountable, make sure things are coming in on time, on budget, make sure your taxpayer money is being used well but also make sure that we're putting folks back to work rebuilding America," Obama said.
Republicans have argued that if the president is worried about permitting times or creating jobs, he should approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
"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," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement Wednesday.