Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, September 6, 2010

It's a start: Obama administration proposes investing $50 billion into infrastructure

Early this morning, the White House informed reporters that President Obama would be using his Labor Day speech in Milwaukee to call for a $50 billion investment in infrastructure. The proposal doesn't have a catchy name yet, or a funding mechanism, but it is welcome news nonetheless. Putting our common wealth to work to upgrade our nation's infrastructure is something that we have put off doing for far too long, as the 2007 Minnesota bridge collapse showed.

I'll let President Obama explain the plan, as conceived so far, in his own words:
It doesn’t do anybody any good when so many hardworking Americans have been idled for months, even years, at a time when there is so much of America that needs rebuilding.

So, that’s why, Milwaukee, today, I am announcing a new plan for rebuilding and modernizing America’s roads and rails and runways for the long term. (Applause.) I want America to have the best infrastructure in the world. We used to have the best infrastructure in the world. We can have it again. We are going to make it happen.

Over the next six years, over the next six years, we are going to rebuild 150,000 miles of our roads -– that’s enough to circle the world six times. That’s a lot of road. We’re going to lay and maintain 4,000 miles of our railways –- enough to stretch coast to coast. We’re going to restore 150 miles of runways. And we’re going to advance a next-generation air-traffic control system to reduce travel time and delays for American travelers.
And we're going to do it without adding to the federal deficit.
This is a plan that will be fully paid for. It will not add to the deficit over time -– we’re going to work with Congress to see to that. We want to set up an infrastructure bank to leverage federal dollars and focus on the smartest investments. We’re going to continue our strategy to build a national high-speed rail network that reduces congestion and travel times and reduces harmful emissions. We want to cut waste and bureaucracy and consolidate and collapse more than 100 different programs that too often duplicate each other. So we want to change the way Washington spends your tax dollars. We want to reform a haphazard, patchwork way of doing business. We want to focus on less wasteful approaches than we’ve got right now. We want competition and innovation that gives us the best bang for the buck.
The President's speechwriter sure managed to fit a lot of buzzwords into that passage, including "innovation", which is being used everywhere these days.

The objective of this plan is laudable, but the funding mechanism is still a question mark. Maybe that's for the best. It makes more sense for the President to announce a new initiative without identifying how to pay for it, because it gives Republicans less to attack. They can denounce the idea, but then they just look foolish. They can say, this idea's unpaid for, but that's just stating the obvious.

The infrastructure initiative won't actually be paid for until the funds are appropriated from somewhere, and only Congress has the power of the purse. So it's entirely appropriate for the President to say he wants to figure out how to pay for something by consulting with Congress (and more specifically, the House, where revenue-raising bills must originate).

Hopefully, Democrats will take advantage of an opportunity to repeal more unnecessary corporate tax exemptions, and use the savings to pay for this infrastructure initiative. (The White House has hinted it wants to remove tax breaks for oil and natural gas exploration, which would be very appropriate). The Republicans will howl like usual, but at least Democrats will be on offense when more voters are paying attention... if they can move the proposal forward.


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