NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Dwarfed by towering cranes and cargo containers, President Barack Obama came to a port in conservative-leaning Louisiana on Friday to nudge both parties to stop throwing up roadblocks to jobs and economic progress.
At the Port of New Orleans, Obama made his case that the U.S. can reverse the decay of the American Dream by embracing ideas with bipartisan support, like technology, roads and schools — and some without, like his unpopular health care law. The alternative, Obama said, is to fall further and further behind competitors like Europe and China.
"The first thing we should do is stop doing things that undermine our businesses and our economy," Obama said. "It's like the gears of our economy, every time they are just about to take off, somebody taps the breaks and says, 'Not so fast.'"
Gumming up the gears most recently, Obama said, was a partial government shutdown last month that Obama said had without question hurt the nation's jobs market. Still, as Obama was leaving Washington Friday morning, the government released surprisingly strong hiring numbers for October, calling into question how negative an effect the shutdown really had.
"We should be building, not tearing things down," Obama said, with the dim roar of machinery in the distance.
Obama wants Congress to include spending for roads, bridges, airports and ports during ongoing budget negotiations. Such projects usually have bipartisan support, but talks have stumbled over how to pay for the cost.
Indeed, Obama throughout his presidency has pressed for more infrastructure spending during numerous other visits to ports just like this one, hoping to expand trade in service of his elusive goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2015. His proposals have gained little traction in Congress, and the president on Friday offered no new suggestions for breaking the impasse.
Obama's visit brought him to a Democratic-friendly enclave within a state that's been generally hostile to his approach to governing.
Arriving in New Orleans, Obama was all smiles on the tarmac as he greeted Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. But later, with Jindal in the audience, Obama chided state Republican leaders who have failed to take advantage of a provision in his health care to expand Medicaid to cover more of the working poor. He said such expansion would benefit 265,000 people in Louisiana.
"So we want to work with everybody — mayor, governor, insurance — whoever it is that wants to work with us here in Louisiana," he said. Even those don't support the overall law should be able to embrace the Medicaid expansion to help the uninsured, he added.
Don't count on it, Jindal quickly rebutted. The governor said Louisiana had rejected the expansion because it would cost taxpayers up to $1.7 billion over a decade.
"We will not allow President Obama to bully Louisiana into accepting an expansion of Obamacare," he said.
A day after apologizing to Americans who are losing health insurance plans despite Obama's promise they could keep it, the president tried his hand at humor as he invoked another aspect of the health law's wobbly launch: the error-prone HealthCare.gov website.
"I wanted to go in and fix it myself, but I don't write code," he said to scattered laughter.
After his speech, Obama flew to the Miami area, where he raised money for Senate Democrats and for the Democratic National Committee at a trio of high-dollar fundraisers.
Obama's tone of bipartisanship yielded to the politics of next year's midterm elections as he told donors gathered in a sprawling, lavish backyard that he believes Republicans blocking his agenda will eventually come around to a more moderate point of view.
But that will only happen if Democrats make clear there will be political consequences if Republicans continue obstructing, Obama said, pointing to a stalled immigration bill as a prime example.
"The only way we can continue to place pressure to get that bill done is by making sure that the other side, or at least that small faction on the other side, understands there's a price to pay when you don't act on the basis of the interests of the American people," Obama said.
Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter: http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP