Obama eyes infrastructure investment to boost the economy

OBAMA EYES INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT TO BOOST THE ECONOMY…. For the last 10 days or so, there’s been a lot of talk, most of it in the form of whispers to political reporters, coming out of the White House about the economy. It was obvious something would be forthcoming, but it wasn’t clear exactly what kind of proposal we’d see.

Most of the talk centered around various kinds of politically-feasible tax cuts more likely to pass Congress. It comes as something of a relief, then, that infrastructure and public works remain a top White House priority. Bang for the buck, these is the kind of investments that make a real difference.

President Obama on Monday is to call for as much as $50 billion in government spending to start up a long-term public works plan emphasizing transportation projects — roads, rail and airport runways — over the next six years.

Mr. Obama will lay out the plan, which is intended to promote the creation of construction jobs over the coming year and beyond, during a trip to Milwaukee on Monday afternoon, where he will observe Labor Day by attending a union festival. It would require Congressional approval, as it envisions extending and revising a broad transportation policy bill that is usually renewed every five years or so, but has been stalled in Congress.

Despite its uncertain prospects, the White House is highlighting its proposal as one part of a broader economic recovery package that Mr. Obama is to unveil during a speech in Cleveland on Wednesday.

The proposal calls rebuilding 150,000 miles of U.S. roads; the construction and maintenance of 4,000 miles of our railways; and at airports, the restoration of 150 miles of runways and the installation of an advanced air-traffic control system.

Of particular interest, the plan includes the creation of an “Infrastructure Bank,” the details of which are still a little fuzzy, but which would reportedly reform the infrastructure process, shifting away from earmarks and traditional government spending formulas, and towards a more competitive model built around effectiveness.

The $50 billion price-tag, according to the White House, will be fully paid for, though it’s likely financing will be weighted — a short increase to the deficit in the short-term, but a cut in subsidies making up the difference on the backend. (Ideally, officials wouldn’t give a damn about the deficit at this point — economic growth and job creation are infinitely more important — but the conservative con has apparently succeeded, and it’s a prerequisite to even trying to overcome a filibuster.)

Because this is an excellent idea that would improve the economy, it’s very likely to be killed by Congress. But (a) I’m glad President Obama is stepping up and doing the right thing anyway; and (b) it’s good to have lawmakers put on the spot before the election, taking a position on sensible, effective economic proposals like this one. I’d like to see a bigger, more ambitious package, but it’s a step in the right direction.