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.
With one foot on the terra firma of national pride and another in his old familiar haunt of progressivism, President Barack Obama Thursday proposed a $10 billion infrastructure bank with $50 billion in expedited infrastructure spending to help stimulate the economy.
"Everyone here knows that we have badly decaying roads and bridges all over this country. Our highways are clogged with traffic. Our skies are the most congested in the world," said the President while a sour-faced Speaker John Boehner sat to his right.
"This is inexcusable. Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic superpower. And now we’re going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads? At a time when millions of unemployed construction workers could build them right here in America?"
In a speech that sounded at times feisty and at times impatient, the President repeatedly urged congress to pass a bill the administration put at $450 billion, which he said would be paid for by other cuts.
But still the speech sounded more like old-style Obama than the man who last month, back to the wall, agreed to $2.4 trillion in spending cuts, with no tax increases. Thursday the President once again called on the rich to pay "their fair share," an idea that the public has embraced but that Congress has rejected.
"There are private construction companies all across America just waiting to get to work. There’s a bridge that needs repair between Ohio and Kentucky that’s on one of the busiest trucking routes in North America. A public transit project in Houston that will help clear up one of the worst areas of traffic in the country," the President said, pointedly picking a Texas city to highlight. Texas is home to the Republican Presidential front-runner, Governor Rick Perry.
The President made his strongest pitch yet in favor of an infrastructure bank, a federally-backed bank that would leverage government funds to draw private capital for large projects like roads, transit, bridges, and dams.
The President said it would issue loans "based on two criteria: how badly a construction project is needed and how much good it would do for the economy."
"This idea came from a bill written by a Texas Republican and a Massachusetts Democrat. The idea for a big boost in construction is supported by America’s largest business organization and America’s largest labor organization. It’s the kind of proposal that’s been supported in the past by Democrats and Republicans alike. You should pass it right away."
In a fact sheet released by the White House, the administration said the National Infrastructure Bank would be capitalized with $10 billion "in order to leverage private and public capital and to invest in a broad range of infrastructure projects of national and regional significance, without earmarks or traditional political influence. The bank would be based on the model Senators Kerry and Hutchison have championed while building on legislation by Senators Rockefeller and Lautenberg and the work of long-time infrastructure bank champions like Rosa DeLauro and the input of the President’s Jobs Council."