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January 22nd, 2009
THE DIG
But, will it work? The American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009

Tom McNamara, Blueprint America

Following his election last November, then President-elect Barack Obama continually advocated for federal spending on infrastructure projects to stimulate the depressed economy and, at the same time, to not just rebuild America’s failing infrastructure but to also establish a Twenty-First Century country.

As a result, legislation called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 15, 2009, days before the President-elect was sworn into office. Still, despite the now-President’s call to revive the economy with the largest public works program since the development of the Interstate System of highways, less than one-third of the $825 billion plan would go to infrastructure projects, and, according to The New York Times, “much of that would go to high-tech projects, rather than traditional concrete-and-steel building and repair work.”

At a time when the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) said last year that $1.6 trillion is needed to improve the country’s infrastructure, the proposed spending allotted for traditional infrastructure projects in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill seemingly comes up short with, for example, just $30 billion for roads and $10 billion for transit and rail.

Next week, on January 28, the ASCE will be releasing the key findings of its 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure almost two months early in order to bring Congress’ attention to the country’s most critical infrastructure needs as President Obama hopes to enact the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill by mid-February.

Already though, the $825 billion economic stimulus package is making its way through Congress as a House of Representatives panel on Jan. 21 approved major portions of the spending initiatives in the plan.

Reuters reports, “The House Appropriations Committee, by a partisan vote of 35-22, approved $358 billion in spending as Republicans on the panel attempted, without success, to cut about one-third of that spending or shift some of it directly to infrastructure projects.”

As Democrats attempt to push the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill through Congress in order to give President Obama an early victory in his administration, Republicans are wary that the bill will have little impact – both on the economy and on improving infrastructure – and that further government spending will be required again to avoid a total economic collapse.

And, although President Obama has said he would not tolerate pork barrel projects, there is still nothing in the proposed legislation to keep states from taking political considerations into account when deciding how to use their share of the federal spending on infrastructure.

Currently, the plan only includes a use-it-or-lose-it provision to force states to spend the money they get quickly, or risk forfeiting it.

What is still missing is the national infrastructure bank President Obama had called for while campaigning to evaluate the necessity of projects.

In an interview with The New York Times, Gov. Ed Rendell (D) of Pennsylvania, who, with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) of New York and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) of California formed a group called Building America’s Future to push for more infrastructure spending, said in response to the proposed stimulus plan, “Anybody who thinks — if the president-elect thinks, or the team thinks — that this is the answer to America’s infrastructure needs is in a different universe.”

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