NEW ORLEANS - President Obama came to one of the busiest seaports in the nation today to continue his call for investing in American infrastructure and scold his political opposition in Congress for repeatedly bringing the country into "manufactured crises."
"We should be investing in ourselves. We should be building, not tearing things down," Obama said to a crowd beneath the towering cranes of this city's docks. "Rather than refighting the same old battles again and again and again, we should be fighting to make sure everybody who works hard in America, and hard right here in New Orleans, that they have a chance to get ahead. That's what we should be focused on."
The president chose these piers to highlight why he believed infrastructure investments at ports were needed to cope with the tides of commerce, and lower the trade deficit.
"Thanks in part to new trade deals that we signed with countries like Panama and Colombia and South Korea, 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. So we're working on new trade deals that will mean more jobs for our workers and more business for ports like this one," he said.
Roughly 650 port workers and members of the local community attended to hear the president, according to the fire department. In addition to infrastructure investments, the president called on Congress to take up currently tabled measures he said were "good for our economic security," including immigration reform, education, and the traditionally non-polarizing farm bill.
"What we have to do now is do what America's always done: make some wise investments in our people and in our country that will help us grow over the long term," Obama continued. "We should close wasteful tax loopholes that don't help our jobs, don't grow our economy and then invest that money in things that actually do create jobs and grow our economy. And one of those things is building new roads, and bridges, and schools, and ports."
He reiterated a call he made in Dallas on Wednesday for states to take advantage of a Medicaid expansion made available under the Affordable Care Act, and asked for continued patience while his administration attempts to fix widespread problems with its online federal health insurance marketplace.
"Bottom line is, New Orleans, we can work together to do these things because we've done them before," he concluded. "We did not become the greatest nation on earth just by chance, just by accident. We had some advantages - really nice real estate here in the United States. But what we also had were people who, despite their differences - and we come from everywhere and look different and have different traditions - we understand that this country works best when we're working together and we decided to do what was necessary for our businesses and our families to succeed."
The president's remarks followed a brief tour of the facility alongside Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. The governor did not give remarks at the port event, but blasted the president Thursday over many of the subjects covered today.
"The reality is here in Louisiana we've cut taxes. We've done things like invest in workforce training. We've cut people's regulations. We've made this a business-friendly state. I think there's a lesson there for the president," Jindal said at a press conference.
In 2010 a presidential initiative set out to double the country's exports within five years by assisting the private sector in reaching new foreign markets, including formation of a national council of industry leaders expected to provide advice on lowering trade barriers. But a recent study by the Brookings Institution and JP Morgan Chase has found that the country is $200 billion short of the target needed to reach that goal.
Most of the top 100 metropolitan trade centers in the US have maintained steady growth, but the Port of New Orleans is one of only a dozen to hold the 15 percent annual increase required to double national output, the study said. Regardless, the increase in American exports has been credited with helping prop up recovery out of recession.
The US Maritime Administration estimates between $85 billion and $154 billion in foreign trade flows through the New Orleans area annually, and that since 2009 that movement has increased 140 percent.
It's been a week of travel for the president. In addition to the Texas trip, he heads to Florida next week to participate in gatherings of his party's national and congressional committees.
New Orleans Mayor Mitchell Landrieu and members of the Congressional Black Caucus were also in attendance today. Missing from the delegation was the mayor's sister, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who had hitched a ride to her home state aboard Air Force One. The senator, who is up for reelection, recently told the local Times-Picayune newspaper she was forced out by a long-standing commitment. But the decision also comes on the heels of a Senate bill recently introduced by Landrieu that would allow Americans to keep their existing healthcare coverage under Obamacare - a promise made by the president that has recently proven to be false for potentially millions.