The Problems with Obama’s Infrastructure Request

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On this Labor Day, President Obama announced that he’s calling on Congress to pass an additional $50 billion in infrastructure investment. While I’m sure this pleased the construction, steel, plumbers and transportation unions – and, let’s face it, unions haven’t been the happiest of groups of late – I see several problems with this request in Congress.

  1. Policy. Remember what happened to Obama’s last $50 billion request – for aid to the states? A $26 billion version finally passed last month after the House had to come back in to special session, two months after the President’s request. That bill saved more than 100,000 teaching jobs, a tough(er) one for Republicans to vote against. But infrastructure investments –which is a nice way of saying stimulus money? The GOP would love to vote against growing the government, as they are bound to call it, as it only gins up their base. Yes, as my colleague Michael Crowley noted in a cover story a few weeks ago, the economy really does need another shot in the arm. But this close to an election, I can’t imagine Senate Republicans allowing this through unless Wall Street is tanking 700 points a day, and even then it’d be a tough vote.
  2. Politics. Speaking of elections, I know the base is depressed and labor is a big part of the base, but when congressional Democrats asked Obama to talk about jobs and the economy this most certainly was not what they had in mind. The very last thing vulnerable Blue Dogs want to be discussing right now is another big, partisan spending bill (if the GOP statements out today were any indication, Dems would pretty much have to go it alone again on this bill). Obama said the plan would be fully paid for, though he did not say how. Paying for the $26 billion in aid to states was a headache that provoked three filibusters and a veto threat. Watching Congress, er, Democrats, haggle their way through another big spending bill is not high on the list of dream October surprises for any Dem.
  3. Schedule. Finally, the timing is not on Obama’s side. The Senate will likely spend the next three, if not four, weeks working on the small business bill. The session is very short. At most they’d have four weeks and that would mean keeping the Senate in session for all of October: not likely with the election the first Tuesday in November. The Senate Finance and EPW Committees have jurisdiction and would need to hold at least one round of hearings and mark ups. Logistically, passing this out of the Senate before the elections is a steep uphill climb.