President Obama today in Ohio is touting a trio of economic proposals, including a $50 billion plan to improve the nation's transportation system and in doing so, create jobs to boost the country's sluggish economic recovery.
"I want America to have the best infrastructure in the world," the President said Monday in Wisconsin, vowing that the funds would help build or repair 150,000 miles of roads, 4,000 miles of railways, and 150 miles of runways.
If the plan is approved by Congress, the projects would be financed by a government-run bank, known as an Infrastructure Bank. According to the White House, the Infrastructure Bank would "leverage federal dollars and focus on investments of national and regional significance that often fall through the cracks in the current siloed (sic) transporation programs."
But proposing such a plan is the easy part. The hard part will come in getting it approved by a Congress bogged down in partisan gridlock and ever more focused on the November elections. And those are just two of a litany of roadblocks. Before a single shovel hits the pavement, numerous questions will have to be answered: How will the bank work? How will the $50 billion project be paid for? How will this plan not fall prey to the political grab-bagging so often seen with federal spending projects?
No sooner had Obama outlined his proposal than Rep. Eric Cantor, the House Republican Whip, accused the administration of "blindly throwing darts at the board and hoping for a bulls-eye."
"Reports from across the country show that dollars intended for infrastructure improvement in the President's first stimulus are being wasted, so how will his latest be any different?" asked Cantor. "Additionally, federal infrastructure projects are typically slow to commence on the ground, meaning that this new effort will do little in the immediate future to kick start the economy."
But across the political aisle Democrats quickly threw their support behind the President's new proposal.
Said Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd, "A significant investment in our ailing national infrastructure will create jobs, boost long-term economic growth, and improve safety. With a National Infrastructure Bank we could leverage state, local, and private funds to ensure our infrastructure systems are equipped to meet the demands of the 21st century."
Over in the House of Representatives, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, has proposed legislation that would place the infrastructure bank under the purview of the Treasury Department and allow it to make loans much like the World Bank currently does.
"This is the kind of initiative we need to support the economy and produce long-term job growth," DeLauro said. "The National Infrastructure Bank is a concept which has garnered broad support from governors, mayors, the business and labor communities, as well as others. For such a bank to succeed, it should function as an independent entity and leverage private dollars to make objective investments in transportation, environmental, energy, and telecommunications projects of regional and national significance."
But Democrats are not unanimous in support. Before Obama took the podium in Cleveland on Monday, Sen. Michael Bennett of Colorado became the first Senate Democrat to come out against the President's infrastructure plan.