Obama says replenishing Highway Trust Fund would be patriotic

Obama says replenishing Highway Trust Fund would be patriotic
President Obama appears in front of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Washington to urge Congress to replenish the Highway Trust Fund. (Jim Lo Scalzo / European Pressphoto Agency)

In his latest attempt to get Congress to spend money to upgrade America's roads and bridges, President Obama debuted a new sales pitch Tuesday: patriotism.

Standing beside the Francis Scott Key Bridge on a sweltering afternoon, Obama paid homage to the writer of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in a speech about the Highway Trust Fund.


"Economic patriotism" dictates that Congress should help states repair and rebuild crucial infrastructure, Obama said, and thus "reward American workers and the businesses that hire them."

A good place to start, he said, is the heavily used bridge named for the Baltimore lawyer who wrote the lyrics for the song that, more than a century later, became the national anthem.

The Key Bridge, which spans the Potomac River, has been classified as structurally deficient and needs urgent repairs, Obama said.

"It's not crazy. It's not socialism," he said to laughter. "It's not the imperial presidency. No laws are broken."

Republican lawmakers "are patriots," he said. "They love their country. They love their families. They just have a flawed theory of the economy that they can't seem to get past.

"Economic patriotism says that instead of stacking the deck in the favor of folks just at the top, let's harness the talents and ingenuity of every American and give every child access to quality education, and make sure that if your job was stamped obsolete or shipped overseas, you're going to get retrained for an even better job," he said.

It's not the first time Obama has appealed to Congress to help rebuild roads, bridges, airports, ports and other infrastructure. The Highway Trust Fund, which helps pay for those projects, is due to run dry by late August or early September unless Congress provides additional funding.

Before Congress broke last week for the Fourth of July recess, a deal appeared possible. Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee postponed a key vote, citing promising new negotiations with Republicans in both chambers.

But nothing is certain. Some GOP lawmakers have insisted that any new spending plan include corresponding spending cuts. The White House is skeptical that House Republicans will ultimately do anything to keep the fund going. Congress returns on July 8.

Failure to replenish the trust fund would force some states to delay needed construction projects and put nearly 700,000 jobs at risk, Obama said.

"That would be like Congress threatening to lay off the entire population of Denver or Seattle or Boston," Obama said.

Obama spoke at the Georgetown Waterfront Park, just blocks from where Key lived in 1812 when war broke out over Britain's attempts to regulate American shipping.

Through the night of Sept. 13, 1814, Key was aboard a British ship in Baltimore harbor to try to negotiate an American's release. A fierce battle raged, and at dawn's early light, Key saw the American flag proudly waving atop the ramparts of Ft. McHenry despite the British bombardment.

He wrote a poem and fit it to a then-popular tune. Congress made it the national anthem in 1931.