Stimulus Turns Infrastructure From Main Course to Garnish

There's a lot of talk of President Obama's economic stimulus plan and I've been watching it closely. Our nation definitely needs investments in critical infrastructure like transportation and telecommunication as we see bridges collapse and broadband rankings drop further and further down the chain. I was hopeful that our new president would take infrastructure seriously. Instead, the proposed package makes infrastructure into a really small part of the package and adopts the Republicans' disastrous "borrow and spend" policies that got us here in the first place.

Infrastructure spending is a great way to kick-start an economy. It creates real jobs, gives us all something of lasting value, increases economic activity and just about everyone agrees that it's a legitimate function of government. Eisenhower's ambitious Interstate Highway system created economic progress like we've never seen. DARPA's investments in distributed computer networks gave rise to the Internet and telecommuting. FDR's public works programs created the Hoover Dam. It's no big secret that the US has been neglecting these kinds of infrastructure for decades and pushing more of the responsibilities back onto states and local governments.

The big problem is that true infrastructure spending is overshadowed by huge spending increases and tax cuts in other areas. Over $140B is being proposed for various education and state uses, an ironic twist from Democrats that constantly (and rightfully) decried NCLB as irresponsible federal interference in education. There's also $275B in proposed tax cuts, money that will add to the national debt and cost many times more for future generations. Another $189B is going towards unemployment benefits and expanding Medicaid. This is all money that would be better used to build roads, improve telecommunications infrastructure, upgrade the power grid or any of the other true infrastructure projects within the bill. We would then have something of lasting value to show for it.

Unfortunately, the infrastructure pieces of the package seem to be intended as a lure into voting for all the rest of the debt spending at a time when credit is short and the only lenders are the Chinese and Saudis. It's not going to be the end of it either and has been called a "down payment" by more than a few members of Congress. I'm really disappointed that Democrats have embraced and extended the poor fiscal restraint of the Republicans, but not terribly surprised. This isn't the kind of change I can believe in.

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3 Responses

  1. rmwarnick says:

    Infrastrucutre? Infrastructure! Rachel Maddow’s favorite word.

    We need more infrastructure spending (or investment, if you prefer). It often gets overlooked because other spending has a much more immediate economic effect. Paul Krugman has observed that this recession (none dare call it a depression) will be long enough and deep enough that there’s no much chance it’ll be over before infrastructure projects can get going.

    So, let’s do it. But you can’t do everything in one bill, even if it is hundreds of pages long.

  2. Jesse says:

    Gah! Thanks for catching the typo. I’ve fixed it.

    I don’t think we’ll be out of the woods before we can break ground either. There’s also a lot of buzz (at least on the broadband parts) about “shovel-ready” projects. I think there’s enough of those across the board that we will see some more immediate effects from infrastructure than most expect.

  3. Bill says:

    I’m afraid this whole bill is “shovel-ready” as in it will bury us. Yes lets get some infrastructure as long as it comes with a moratorium on environmental action so that we can actually get something done without just stimulating the legal profession with lawsuits. Lets also cut the corporate tax rate and re-institute the investment tax credit of 30 years ago. No need to do anything with capital gains. There aren’t any to bother with.

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