Ky. Republicans urge Obama to take other approaches to fix bridges

09/22/2011 06:15 PM

Kentucky Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul made a personal pitch to President Barack Obama for a different plan to fund infrastructure repairs and improvements

Paul traveled from Washington to Cincinnati on Air Force One with Obama, who gave a speech urging public support for his jobs plan that includes infrastructure funding.

Paul, however, unveiled what he called “the Emergency Transportation Safety Fund Act of 2011” that would balance new spending on bridges and roads by eliminating other “optional projects.”

“While we are faced with a fiscal crisis, our nation also has critical infrastructure needs that demand immediate attention,” Paul said in a statement. “This bill closes the gap in federal highway planning and funding without increasing spending and without any earmarks.”

He said Congress can free up funding to repair and rebuild bridges by slashing money for “optional projects such as scenic beautification and transportation museums.”

The statement didn’t say how much money would be freed up. And a spokesman for Paul didn’t return a call for comment.

Obama introduced Paul in his remarks. Paul drew some boos from the mostly Democratic crowd. But Obama tried to quell the boos by telling them that Paul is supportive of improving infrastructure.

Paul, Gov. Steve Beshear, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth and other officials will join U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez at the Sherman Minton Bridge on Friday.

Other Kentucky officials — most notably U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell — didn’t attend the president’s speech.

But McConnell reacted to it even before Obama even landed at the airport.

In his morning floor speech, McConnell said bridges such as the Sherman Minton need to be fixed but that the president’s proposal wouldn’t accomplish that. McConnell said the stimulus bill Obama pushed for in 2008 failed to produce substantial bridge improvements across the country. He argued it was instead squandered on projects such as a $535 guaranteed loan to a California solar company, Solyndra, which has since filed for bankruptcy and laid off 1,000 workers.

“If a bridge needs fixing, by all means, let’s fix it,” McConnell said. “But don’t tell us we need to pass a half a trillion dollar stimulus bill and accept job-killing tax hikes to do it.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis of Northern Kentucky issued a statement following Obama’s remarks saying that he, like McConnell, didn’t believe Obama’s proposal would lead to a new bridge to Cincinnati.

“Nothing in the President’s proposed legislation necessarily helps us to build a new bridge, and his remarks today did not address my concerns,” Davis said. “Replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge remains one of my top priorities, and I will continue fighting to move this project forward.”

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