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OBAMAS CONFUSION ON INFRASTRUCTURE
October 14, 2010

Posted by Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov

OBAMA’S CONFUSION ON INFRASTRUCTURE

Now says: “No such thing as shovel-ready projects”

In a New York Times blog post, previewing a Sunday Times interview with President Obama about lessons learned in his first two years in office, an interesting quote stands out: the President now believes, “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.”

How things change.  Indeed, how can one forget the mantra of 2009, when President Obama routinely touted “shovel-ready” projects to sell his stimulus bill (check out this Washington Post article from January 2009). 

We look forward to reading the entire Times article on Sunday, but for now, it seems the President can’t quite get a handle on what to do about infrastructure.  On Labor Day, the President rolled out a new $50 billion infrastructure policy.  But it was an unserious proposal, flawed in many respects, as members of his party clearly understood.  Consider the following from National Journal

In a sign that Democrats are not on-board with what was supposed to be a major cornerstone of their platform this fall, an increasing number of Democratic incumbents and candidates are criticizing Pres. Obama's economic plan. Within 24 hours of Obama's major address in Ohio on Thursday, a Democratic senator, three House Democrats and another two Democrats vying for open House seats all distanced themselves from Obama's economic plan.

President Obama had an opportunity to sign a real stimulus bill—one focused on infrastructure—but Democratic leaders in the Senate, presumably with his acquiescence, killed two bipartisan amendments, cosponsored by Sen. Inhofe, to support more infrastructure during the stimulus debate.  One amendment would have increased highway investment in the bill by $5.5 billion; another would have redirected $50 billion toward infrastructure. 

As Sen. Inhofe explained at the time, “I believe it is our duty in this stimulus bill to create as many jobs as quickly as possible.  It’s not just the funding that is important, but how quickly we are able to stimulate the economy with the money in these programs.” 

Sen. Inhofe ultimately voted against the stimulus bill, on grounds that it contained too little funding for transportation and infrastructure and too much for wasteful big government programs:

Democrats must be held accountable for the lack of infrastructure spending in this massive government spending bill. Despite originally being sold as an infrastructure bill, the fact is this bill contains less than 7% for infrastructure in the entire bill. Furthermore, despite all the references to money going to shovel-ready highway and bridge projects, investment in highways comprises only 3% of the package. Through my leadership position on the Environment and Public Works Committee and Armed Services Committee, I know firsthand the link between infrastructure and defense spending, job creation, and a robust economy. Despite reaching across the aisle to propose amendments to strip wasteful spending and replace it with legitimate, job-creating provisions, the Democratic majority clung to their chosen priorities. Inhofe Press Release (2/10/09) 

President Obama should listen to Gov. Ed Rendell (D) of Pennsylvania, who penned an editorial with Sen. Inhofe about the benefits of moving a federal highway bill.  As they wrote in July:

It is time for Republicans and Democrats to work together to get America moving again. We are committed to joining our colleagues - in Congress and in the states - to provide the level of investment necessary to deliver the infrastructure that Americans need and deserve.  Inhofe-Rendell Op-Ed (7/19/10) 

One hopes the President has worked through his confusion about infrastructure investment.  He can join Republicans and Democrats to pass fiscally sound highway and water infrastructure bills that can create jobs and grow the economy.  Clinging to his failed stimulus bill won’t do him or the country any good.  

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