By Mark Felsenthal
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – President Barack Obama made a pitch on Friday to create jobs by fixing roads, dredging ports and modernizing the air traffic control system, urging Congress to focus on these investments as it tries to work out a budget deal by a January deadline.
The visit the Port of New Orleans was an opportunity for Obama to focus on the economy and take attention away from the controversy around the launch of his signature healthcare insurance program, widely known as Obamacare.
Obama pledged, however, to fix the malfunctioning Healthcare.gov website, and took a veiled jab at Louisiana’s Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, who was in the audience, for failing to support a key plank of Obamacare.
Louisiana is one of 24 states that has refused federal funds to expand Medicaid to more low-income people, money that Obama said would help 265,000 people in the state gain access to health insurance.
“Even if you don’t support the overall plan, let’s at least go ahead and make sure that the folks who don’t have health insurance right now and can get it through an expanded Medicaid, let’s make sure we do that,” Obama told a crowd of about 650 people on a wharf on the Mississippi River.
Obama’s visit to New Orleans followed a television interview aired on Thursday, in which he apologized to Americans who were dropped by their health plans because of changes mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
The U.S. government said on Friday that employers added 204,000 jobs in October despite a 16-day government shutdown, although the jobless rate ticked up to 7.3 percent.
Despite the surprisingly strong report, the White House estimated that there would have been 120,000 more jobs created in the month had it not been for the government shutdown.
“There is no question that the shutdown harmed our jobs market. The unemployment rate still ticked up,” Obama said.
He urged Congress to include an infrastructure spending plan in a budget deal.
“I know if there’s one thing that members of Congress from both parties want, it’s smart infrastructure projects that create good jobs in their districts,” he said.
After his speech, Obama was to speak at two fundraisers for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Miami, and another for the Democratic National Committee.
Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who faces a tough re-election race next year, traveled with Obama from Washington, but did not attend his event. Obama said she was busy traveling within the state.
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Philip Barbara and Christopher Wilson)
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