Streams

Democrats Chase the Transpo Spending Unicorn

Thursday, June 30, 2011 - 05:48 PM

President Barack Obama listens to a question during a press conference in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

(Washington DC) Democrats are holding onto the dream.

The partisan politics that swirl around the much-maligned $787 billion stimulus has all but erased any chance of new transportation infrastructure spending, at least until the economy improves.

But listen to top Democrats—including President Barack Obama—over the last couple of days, and you wouldn’t know that both the Republican party, as well as much of the public, has lost their appetite for such spending.

With talks over raising the federal debt limit and reigning in the deficit at a standstill, Obama took to the White House East Room Wednesday afternoon to push back on what he sees as Republican intransigence. The GOP is sticking to its guns: no tax increases of any kind can be part of a deal on the debt limit.

Obama had plenty to say about that. But he also said that new job spending—you could call it stimulus—should be part of the deal as a way to goose the still-flagging economy.

“I think it’s important for us to look at rebuilding our transportation infrastructure in this country.  That could put people back to work right now -- construction workers back to work right now.  And it would get done work that America needs to get done.  We used to have the best roads, the best bridges, the best airports.  We don’t anymore.  And that’s not good for our long-term competitiveness,” the president said.

Obama seemed to suggest that the new spending could be folded in as part of a broader deal to cut the deficit. Such spending has not specifically come up in meetings with Republicans so far, according to aides on Capitol Hill.

But Democrats have enjoyed hammering the GOP lately for ignoring middle-class jobs at the expense of the wealthy. It’s a reliable cudgel, to be sure. And Democrats are now promising that once a debt deal is behind them and all the painful cuts are made, they’ll return with an aggressive jobs plan chock full of transportation wishes.

Witness Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) on Thursday morning in Washington. Schumer gave a politically charged speech castigating Republicans for trying to hamper Obama by blocking any measures that might help job growth in the short term.

Schumer said Democrats would soon launch a “Jobs First” agenda, designed to speed a drop in the unemployment rates and build long-term economic soundness. Of course, in this toxic atmosphere, it’s also designed to poll-test well with 2012 voters.

Schumer called for:

“A Highway Bill that will put people back to work building critical infrastructure that is necessary to help our economy compete, for example by making it easier to transport manufactured goods from their plant in Ohio to the port in Washington, or Los Angeles or New York.”

and also:

“A National Infrastructure Bank, which both labor and the Chamber of Commerce have strongly supported, and which would create a platform to leverage private sector investment for projects of national or regional significance.”

Of course neither of those items is new on the Democrats’ wish-list. But Obama and Schumer clearly think that pushing for them on the cusp of an election year will play well with prospective voters. For now, they’re clawing for traction against consistent GOP messaging that out-of-control spending is what got the nation into this debt conundrum to begin with.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the GOP leader, took to the Senate floor Thursday with this: “Who really thinks that the answer to a $1.6 trillion deficit is a second Stimulus, that the answer is more deficit spending? Where in the world did that idea come from?”

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