Dueling Proposals

| July 11, 2011

Okay folks if you look out the left side of the aircraft you can see crumbling infrastructure and if you look out the right side you can see a crumbling economy. Now let’s try and land this thing.

House Republicans are looking out the right side of the plane and Senate Democrats out of the left side.

The Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are applauding their proposal for a new surface transportation bill that will provide $230B over six years. They call it fiscally responsible. They say in this calamitous, crumbling economy it is wrong for the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to spend more than it takes in.

A Senate proposal from Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairmen of the Environment and Public works Committee is for $109B over two years using the HTF money plus about $12B from the general fund. Looking out the left windows they see a need for jobs and bridges that don’t fall down. Boxer says, “a great nation has to invest in its people, and in its resources, and its future and if we have bridges that fall down we are lost.”

Both proposals include some impressive reforms in the way business is done, and most of them, from both sides, have been well-received.

Obviously we’ve had Democrat/Republican and House/Senate splits before, but this one is worrisome because of the simplicity of the disagreement, something which would, I think, ironically, make it harder to compromise. We know we need jobs and infrastructure construction, that’s a given. We also know that continuing to spend like a drunken sailor is potentially disastrous for the whole country. The factor that should allow the two sides to get together instead of digging trenches to face off, is that transportation infrastructure is an essential expense. If the ship of state was sinking and we had too little money, surely we’d find enough money to buy something to bail with.

For years interested parties on both sides of the aisle have repeated and repeated the idea that there are no Republican highways and no Democrat bridges.  There are also no highway or bridges that will stop deteriorating just because we have a lousy economy. Up until very, very recently (days) there was a sense that bipartisanship would find a way because in the end transportation infrastructure made our elected representatives’ districts safer and created district jobs too. To continue to think that way we need to believe in the “exceptionalism” of transportation infrastructure. We need a mindset in Washington that says we can compromise here and cut there but transportation infrastructure is off the table because it is jobs and lives, now and in our future.

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