MIAMI — Trying to show that the economy remains a top priority, President Barack Obama promoted a plan Friday to create construction and other jobs by attracting private money to help rebuild roads, bridges and other public works projects.
Obama fleshed out the details during a visit to a Miami port that's undergoing $2 billion in upgrades paid for with government and private dollars. The quick trip was designed to show that the economy and unemployment are top priorities for a president who also is waging high-profile campaigns on immigration reform and gun control.
Obama said the unemployment rate among construction workers was the highest of any industry, despite being cut nearly in half over the past three years.
"There are few more important things we can do to create jobs right now and strengthen our economy over the long haul than rebuilding the infrastructure that powers our businesses and economy," Obama said. "As president, my top priority is to make sure we are doing everything we can to ignite the true engine of our economic growth — a rising, thriving middle class."
Among the proposals Obama called for, which require approval from Congress, are:
—$4 billion in new spending on two infrastructure programs that award loans and grants.
—Higher caps on "private activity bonds" to encourage more private spending on highways and other infrastructure projects. State and local governments use the bonds to attract investment.
—Giving foreign pension funds tax-exempt status when selling U.S. infrastructure, property or real estate assets. U.S. pension funds are generally tax exempt in those circumstances. The administration says some international pension funds cite the tax burden as a reason for not investing in American infrastructure.
—A renewed call for a $10 billion national "infrastructure bank."
Arriving at the expansive port in Miami, Obama stood inside a double-barreled, concrete-laced hole in the ground, touring a tunnel project that will connect the port to area highways. The project has received loans and grants under the programs Obama touted and is expected to open next summer.