Rick Karr, Blueprint America correspondent
The collapse of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis in 2007 sparked a debate on how best to rebuild America’s decaying infrastructure. Some experts now estimate that the country needs to invest over $1.6 trillion to fix everything that’s in need of repair. Now, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are debating whether spending to patch up the infrastructure might stimulate the economy. But, where do the presidential candidates stand on that idea? In the last segment of a four part Blueprint America radio series, a report on how the country may be able to reinforce its economy and infrastructure at the same time.
John McCain and Barack Obama agree that fixing the country’s infrastructure will be a priority. Yet neither one’s said much about it on the campaign trail. That’s probably because the country’s fighting two wars, and an economic slowdown.
“The discussion of infrastructure has been limited by those events.”
That’s Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain’s senior economic adviser. He says infrastructure projects are too often examples of pork-barrel spending – gifts from lawmakers to their constituents. Take the case of roads:
“We have to change the way we do business. Far too often we see our highway monies allocated on the basis of their political benefit and not their economic benefit.”
The Obama campaign emphasizes the power of infrastructure spending to create jobs. The centerpiece of the Democratic nominee’s proposal is the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank that will invest sixty billion dollars over ten years. Robert Paaswell is distinguished professor of civil engineering at the City College of New York. He says the idea is to get the states to cooperate with the federal government – by putting up a pot of money.
“Several billion dollars from which projects over $75 million dollars, worthy projects that hopefully are vetted can come to the table and find subsidies, or the feds can issue bonds, or the feds can loan money to the States to issue bonds.”
But as the economy continues to tank, Congress is not waiting for a new president. The $150 billion stimulus package currently calls for a hefty chunk of change to go toward upgrading roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Federico Pena is former Secretary of Transportation and Energy, and a spokesperson for the Obama campaign. He says the Illinois senator supports the idea.
“The Senator has made it clear that in the stimulus proposal he recommended that almost half of it would be directed to some form of infrastructure investment.”
Douglas Holtz-Eakin says McCain’s not opposed to the proposal in principal. But a President McCain would examine individual spending proposals, and oppose the ones that he decided won’t do much for the economy.