In the Arena

More Creamed Spinach

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I just got off the phone with Senator John Kerry, who told me more about his Infrastructure Bank proposal. It sounds pretty good to me. The basic bottom line is this: a $10 billion federal contribution will leverage about $640 billion in private investments…money from entities as diverse as union pension funds to foreign sovereign wealth funds–that is, the immense funds that countries like China and Kuwait are using to invest in the private sector. Kerry said the money would be invested in three areas…

water, energy and transportation projects. The projects will be judged by an independent board filled with “both private and public sector engineering experts.” The loans–and these will only be interest-bearing loans, not government grants–will be for projects of $100 million or more, with “a smaller set-aside program for rural projects of $25 million or more.”

Kerry rattled off some statistics: 69,000 bridges in need of repair. An estimated $2.2 trillion in infrastructure projects needed to make the bring the country to world-class standards when it comes to highways, airports and rail. “Both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO are supporting this bill,” as well as Senators from both parties. Including Appropriators, I asked. “Yes,” Kerry replied, “We’ve got Barbara Boxer and Frank Lautenberg.” He added that the Infrastructure Bank would be in addition to the usual Appropriations process, which is too bad–in a better world, an Infrastructure Bank would replace the oft-sleazy appropriations process.

So where does it stand? “We’ve been trying to build a critical mass of support for it,” Kerry said. “We’re getting close.”

I’d hope that we could pass something like this close to simultaneously with the debt-ceiling deal that everyone suspects is a week away. It would be nice for Washington to focus on a problem–our infrastructure, our economy, jobs–that actually concerns people out in the country.

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