Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
(Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Presidents Barack Obama's proposal Monday for $50 billion in new spending on highway and railroad infrastructure has players on Capitol Hill scratching their heads while at the same time predicting the money likely wont pass Congress this year.
Aides to key lawmakers in both the House and Senate said they knew little of Obama's proposal prior to his announcement Monday in front of a labor union audience in Much of what Capitol Hill knows of the White House's actual intentions it has learned from the press, several said.
"We didn't know Obama was going to make the announcement until Sunday and we didn't get any details until yesterday," one House Democratic aide told Transportation Nation. "There are a lot of questions here, a lot of gaps, as to how this is going to work, the aide said.
Obama proposed $50 billion in new spending for new railroads construction, highway installation and maintenance, and other infrastructure improvements. The president billed it as a way to further stimulate job growth, which continues to flag less than two months before the mid-term elections.
The White House has proposed funding the infrastructure bank through increased taxes on oil companies. While such a move could be popular with the public, no one on Capitol Hill who spoke to Transportation Nation was clear on how long the program would last, whether such tax increases would continue beyond a couple of years, or whether the proposed program would temporarily replace a renewal of the national transportation reauthorization bill.
That bill has stalled in Congress as lawmakers struggle to find money to pay for it. The Highway Trust fund used to fund the bill stands as much as $150 billion short of what it would need to pay for proposed infrastructure projects in the bill. The White House has rejected the idea of raising the federal gas tax to make up the gap, and lawmakers have so far failed to agree on an alternative.
Aides on both sides of the Capitol are already skeptical that Senate Republicans would give Barack Obama a legislative victory by allowing the plan to pass before the November elections.
"The White House has chosen to double-down on more of the same failed 'stimulus' spending," House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said in a statement.
But Democrats aren't exactly predicting success. "I'd be surprised if we passed the infrastructure part of the plan" one Senate Leadership aide said. House and Senate aides both said they expect to be briefed on the plans details by White House or the Department of Transportation in the coming days.