"Republicans in Congress would rather put fewer of you to work rebuilding America than ask millionaires and billionaires to live without massive new tax cuts on top of the ones they've already got," Obama said in a speech before the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department 2012 Legislative Conference.
"I don't have to tell you that we have bridges and roads all over this country in desperate need of repair," he said. "Our highways are clogged with traffic. Our railroads are no longer the fastest in the world. Our skies are congested and our airports are the busiest on the planet. All of this costs families and businesses billions of dollars a year. And that drags down our entire economy."
He said each time he's sent a bill to Congress that would create jobs, Republicans greeted it with a "no," even though infrastructure construction bills historically enjoyed strong bipartisanship support. Republicans, Obama said, also voted to cut spending on transportation infrastructure by nearly 30 percent while other countries have sunk more investment in infrastructure.
"Their argument might actually fly if they didn't just vote to spend $4.6 trillion on lower tax rates -- that's with a 'T' trillion -- on top of the $1 trillion they'd spend on tax cuts for people making more than $250,000 a year. So they're willing to spend over $5 trillion to give tax breaks to folks like me who don't need them and weren't even asking for them, at a time when this country needs to be rebuilt. That's gives you a sense of their priorities."
He noted that he had signed executive orders to fast-track some loans and grants for new construction projects, cutting red tape and launching several existing projects faster and more efficiently, to get around the impasse on Capitol Hill.
The budget deficit needs to be brought down in the long term, but "if we're smart about it," investments can be made to help the country and the American people in the short term, too, Obama said.
And, Obama said, Republicans are bent on dismantling unions.
"After all you've done to build and protect the middle class, they're saying you're responsible for the problems facing the middle class," the president said. "Somehow that makes sense to them. Well, that's not what I believe."
"I believe our economy is stronger when workers are getting paid good wages and good benefits. That's what I believe," Obama said. "I believe the economy is stronger when collective bargaining rights are protected. I believe all of us are better off when we've got broad-based prosperity that grows outwards from a strong middle class."
"I believe when folks try and take collective bargaining rights away by passing so-called 'right-to-work' laws that might also be called 'right-to-work-for-less' laws, that's not about economics; that's about politics," Obama said, interrupted by applause from the approximately 2,500 people attending the event.
Times now are tough and union members have gotten discouraged and frustrated, he said.
"But we've been through tougher times before," Obama said. "Your unions have been through tougher times before. And we've always been able to overcome, 'cause we don't quit."
During a lighter moment, Obama said he "just barely can hammer a nail into the wall. My wife's not impressed with my skills when it comes to fixing up the house."
"Right now, fortunately I'm in a rental," he commented, "so I don't end up having to do a lot of work."