- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The White House is detailing plans the President Obama first announced in his State of the Union address to direct tens of billions of federal dollars to rebuilding roads and bridges across the country.

As part of a new $50 billion infrastructure stimulus 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 a White House explanation of the plan, which also touts the infrastructure work completed during Mr. Obama’s first term as the most significant public transportation works program since the New Deal.

Another $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 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.

The funding piece in the plan, however, is unlikely to gain traction in Congress where Republicans control the House.

In his State of the Union address, Mr. Obama argued that the infrastructure would as many as 70,000 “structurally deficient” bridges and got a few chuckles when he told lawmakers that he knew most of them supported the work in their districts.

“I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts,” he said. “I’ve seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings.”

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 directed money to 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 claims that infrastructure investments help boost the economy as a whole, 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, a Louisiana Republican who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, said late last week.

Mr. Obama will discuss the plan Wednesday afternoon during interviews with eight local television stations from across the country.