Obama: Boost port spending

President Obama called Friday for Congress to invest more in U.S. ports and waterways and other forms of transportation.

Speaking at the Port of New Orleans, Obama said America was falling behind other nations when it came to infrastructure.

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"Nationally we're falling behind," Obama said. "We're relying on old stuff … I don't think we should have this old stuff. We should have some new stuff."

Obama cited the need to deepen ports like the one he used as a backdrop on Friday as an example of the infrastructure backlog he said was facing the country.

Obama said Congress should allow ports to deepen themselves ahead of a scheduled expansion of the Panama Canal that will allow larger ships to pass through the Central American channel. 

"Rebuilding our transportation and communications networks is one of the fastest ways to create good jobs," he said. "And consider that just a couple years from now, we're going to have new supertankers that are gonna start coming through the Panama Canal. And these tankers can hold three times as much cargo as today's. If a port can't handle those supertankers, they'll go load and unload cargo somewhere else." 

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Congress is expected to begin bicameral negotiations on an $8.2 billion water infrastructure bill that has been approved this year by both chambers.

The White House has said it supports the measure, which is known as the Water Resources Development Act.

Obama did not mention the water bill by name on Friday, but he said it was important to allow U.S. exports to continue to grow.

"Right now, exports are one of the brightest spots in our economy thanks in part to new trade deals that we've signed with countries like Panama and Colombia and South Korea," he said. "We now export more goods and services than ever before, and that means jobs right here in the United States of America. Last year, every $1 billion in exports supports nearly 5,000 jobs, including jobs right here at this port." 

Obama used the appearance at the New Orleans port to push lawmakers to approve a farm bill that has been hung up in Congress this year.

"This is not something that just benefits farmers," he said. "Ports like this one depend on all the products coming down the Mississippi [River]. So let's do the right thing: pass a farm bill, we can start selling more products, that's more business for this port, and that means more jobs right here." 
 
Obama also made a pitch for investment in other areas of transportation, arguing that addressing the country's infrastructure backlog would create jobs during construction and after projects were completed.

"One in nine of our bridges is rated structurally deficient," he said. "More than 40 percent of our major highways are congested.

"So's our airspace," Obama continued. "Everybody who's sitting on a .. .tarmac wondering why it is that you're not taking off and getting aggravated when you go fly someplace, part of the reason is we've got this antiquated air traffic control system. We need the next-generation air traffic control system. It would reduce [travel time], it would reduce delays, it reduces fuel costs for airlines, it reduces pollution in the sky. We know how to do it. We just haven't done it."

Obama said Republicans in Congress should work with him on address the transportation issues he said are facing the country.

"That shouldn't be a Democratic or Republican issue," Obama said. "That's just smart to go ahead and do it; something that people across the political spectrum should be able to agree on."

Obama was joined in his appearance Friday by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who argued that the New Orleans port was important "to the city, the state and the whole country."

"America is a maritime nation," Foxx said after noting he recently conducted visits to ports in Baltimore, Jacksonville, Savannah and Charleston, S.C.

-This story was updated with new information at 2:48 p.m.