President Obama on Wednesday challenged Congress to tackle tax reform in order to fund desperately needed infrastructure repair across the country, but even some fellow Democrats admit the new proposal stands little chance of becoming reality.
During an address at St. Paul’s Union Depot railroad and intermodal station, Mr. Obama laid out an ambitious $302 billion infrastructure spending plan and said it, along with other pieces of the president’s so-called “opportunity agenda,” will boost economic growth and create jobs.
While in Minnesota, the president also launched a new $600 million round of federal grants to fix roads, bridges, rail lines, airports, electric grids and other parts of the country’s deteriorating infrastructure.
But even before the president took to the stage in St. Paul, Sen. Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the president’s four-year plan appears doomed and indicated it has dim prospects in the Republican-controlled House and possibly in the Senate as well.
“I think it’s good, but I don’t hold out hope for it,” Mrs. Boxer said.
Still, the White House is moving forward with the proposal and will include it in the president’s upcoming budget.
The administration proposed paying for the spending partly through revenue from tax reform, but said it is open to other ideas from lawmakers. Specifically, the president said about $150 billion in “one-time” revenue for infrastructure projects could come from tax reform and the closing of some tax loopholes.
On the same day Mr. Obama unveiled his latest initiatives, Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, put forth his own plan that would provide about $126 billion for federal transportation spending and said his proposal would fully fund the Highway Trust Fund for eight years.
While not addressing Mr. Camp’s plan specifically, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the renewed focus on infrastructure is a good sign and hinted that he and the president are open to adjustments to their proposal.
“I think the most important thing is that the ideas need to be put on the table,” Mr. Foxx said Wednesday, echoing the words of state highway and transportation officials, who applauded both Mr. Obama’s and Mr. Camp’s ideas.
The administration’s plan would reauthorize the current federal surface transportation bill that expires in September and also would address the looming insolvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund, which gets its revenue through taxes on gasoline and diesel.
The fund is expected to go broke by the end of the summer, partly because of the rise in more fuel-efficient vehicles that use less gasoline and also because the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993, even as the price at the pump has increased dramatically during that time.
In making his case, the president touted the benefits of infrastructure investment, while also tasking Congress with making sure the fund doesn’t run dry.
“The bottom line is there’s work to be done, workers ready to do it. Rebuilding our infrastructure is vital to business. It creates good-paying jobs that, by the way, cannot be outsourced. This is one of Congress’s major responsibilities — helping states and cities fund new infrastructure projects,” Mr. Obama said. “And part of the reason I’m focused on this is Congress has an important deadline coming up. If Congress doesn’t finish a transportation bill by the end of the summer, we could see construction projects stop in their tracks, machines sitting idle, workers off the job.”
In addition to his $302 billion infrastructure plan, the president also announced another $600 million in competitive grant funding through the federal Transportation Department to pay for construction and repair projects in states. It’s the latest round of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program (TIGER), which began as a part of Mr. Obama’s 2009 stimulus package.