Another pitch for spending on roads, bridges

Obama calls for expedited permitting for infrastructure

One day after warning about the dire consequences of failing to break through Washington’s latest budget impasse, President Obama renewed his call for directing tens of billions of federal dollars to rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges and ports.

The White House on Wednesday fleshed out plans for more stimulus spending on the nation’s infrastructure that Mr. Obama first announced in his State of the Union address last week.

As part of a new $50 billion infrastructure proposal, Mr. Obama is initiating a “fix-it-first” policy aimed at cutting review and permitting timelines for federal construction projects for highways, bridges, railways and ports.

Most of the funding, which is subject to congressional approval, would be directed to work on the highways, bridges, transit systems and airports “most in need of repair,” according to the White House.

An additional $10 billion would go toward the creation of a national infrastructure bank, which would issue government loans for construction projects and operate as an independent agency free from the political or parochial influences that members face when funding federal projects in their districts.

The timing of the push for new infrastructure spending comes as budget talks are dominating Washington and lawmakers are on the hunt for cost savings to help pay down the federal debt, raising doubts that money will be found for Mr. Obama’s blueprint.

The proposal repackages Mr. Obama’s plans from his 2011 “American Jobs Act,” and the president is pitching it as yet another way to boost the economy by creating new projects for unemployed construction workers and making America a “magnet” for jobs.

“Investing in infrastructure not only makes our roads, bridges, and ports safer and allows our businesses and workers to be as competitive as they need to be in the global economy, it also creates thousands of good American jobs that cannot be outsourced,” the White House said in the summary.

But Congress has the power of the purse, and lawmakers like to determine which projects to fund. With so much budget pressure on Congress right now to find cuts, the $50 billion in new stimulus is unlikely to gain traction, especially in the GOP-controlled House.

Conservatives immediately attacked Mr. Obama’s infrastructure plans as an ineffective way to create jobs and recalled the $821 billion stimulus program that included taxpayer money for government construction projects, such as roads and bridges, and was billed as a way to create jobs and stimulate private-sector investment.

Even though Mr. Obama contends that infrastructure investments helped carry the economy through a deep recession, critics point to stubborn unemployment figures that are still hovering at 8 percent, roughly the same level they were when the president took office in 2009.

“Four years after President Obama signed his $821 billion taxpayer-funded stimulus into law, American taxpayers are still paying the tab for the broken promises, and all we have to show for it are higher unemployment, higher debt and higher taxes,” Rep. Stephen Scalise, Louisiana Republican, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, said late last week.

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