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Barack Obama speaks with officials as he tours the Port Miami tunnel project in Miami, Florida on March 29, 2013/AFP

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Obama touts tunnel project in infrastructure bid

Barack Obama speaks with officials as he tours the Port Miami tunnel project in Miami, Florida on March 29, 2013/AFP

Barack Obama speaks with officials as he tours the Port Miami tunnel project in Miami, Florida on March 29, 2013/AFP

MIAMI, Mar 29 – President Barack Obama peered into a Miami tunnel Friday in a photo op designed to pressure Republicans to back his plan to create jobs by spending on roads, bridges and ports.

Shadowed by towering cruise ships, Obama toured a massive tunnel project at the port of Miami, which when complete will take trucks and other heavy traffic heading to and from the docks out of the downtown Miami area.

Later, surrounded by cargo containers and a vast dockyard crane under the warm Florida sun, the president touted what he called “a plan to put people back to work rebuilding America.”

“What are we waiting for? There is work to be done, there are workers ready to do it, ” Obama said, arguing that better ports, roads and airports would convince more CEOs to locate manufacturing plants in the United States.

“In a time of tight budgets we have got to do it in a way that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely,” Obama said, advocating private-public partnerships in an age of bitter political divisions and austerity in Washington.

Obama’s plan is a new effort to create an infrastructure bank, seeded with $10 billion in capital, to attract private and public funds to invest in repairing America’s decaying roads, bridges and airports.

The idea of such a bank has been repeatedly proposed by the administration but has gone nowhere in Congress, where Republicans have balked at Obama’s proposals as they seek to make big cuts to public spending.

Obama aides, however, argue that the president’s approach would be revenue neutral and would not add a dime to the deficit, and that historically, Republicans have favored infrastructure spending.

“There is no reason this should be a Democratic tunnel or a Republican tunnel,” Obama’s deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said, referring to the Miami project.

“These are projects that are helpful to the economy and shouldn’t break down on partisan lines.”

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The president is also proposing a new America Fast Forward Bonds program, which would help state and local governments finance projects.

He also wants to invest billions of dollars in new funding for programs designed to rebuild American transport infrastructure.

Friday’s event was the latest in a series of attempts by Obama to publicize aspects of his budget, which he will debut on April 10 and which is likely to set off a new wave of partisan wrangling in Washington.

While Obama enjoyed getting out of Washington, the capital’s contentious politics followed him south to the Sunshine State.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio said Obama should listen to small business owners in the state, who he said were burdened by troublesome government regulation and Democratic plans to hike taxes.

“Our economy won’t grow or produce middle class jobs because of the constant threat of trillion dollar tax hikes like the one recently approved in the Senate Democratic budget,” Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, said in a Miami Herald op-ed article.

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