Aug. 22, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Obama Boosts Infrastructure — but Too Late

As one example of America’s falling behind, a White House economic analysis this week noted that China has already built a rail line that covers 600 miles in three hours — the time it takes Amtrak’s “high-speed” Acela to cover 200 miles from Washington, D.C., to New York.

According to a Texas study, Americans in 439 urban areas spent some 4.2 billion hours sitting in congested traffic in 2007, the equivalent of a full workweek for the average commuter — and wasted about $87 billion in fuel.

According to the Mineta-Skinner report, the U.S. spends just 0.6 percent of gross domestic product on transportation infrastructure versus 1.85 percent spent by Western Europe.

As Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) pointed out in recent testimony, Europe’s infrastructure bank spent $350 billion from 2005 to 2009 modernizing seaports, expanding airports, building rail lines and reconfiguring city centers.

Actually, as Galston notes, there’s a win No. 4 to be had in creating an NIB: Governments — federal, state and local — can’t afford huge building programs. Private capital, which now represents a small fraction of infrastructure investment, needs to be deployed and the bank is the way to do it.

But for all these potential wins, Galston thinks — and so do I — that Obama is a year or 18 months too late, possibly diverted by his eagerness to pass health care reform.

It now smacks of more “stimulus spending,” even though transportation projects accounted for only 7 percent of Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package.

All infrastructure, including broadband deployment and smarter electric grids, accounted for less than a third.

The infrastructure bank — if it’s truly independent and replaces current Congressional formulas and earmarks for transportation projects — has support from Republican-leaning groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

But even some pro-infrastructure Republicans, such as former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, say federal programs need to be reformed and the budget deficit dealt with before there are major new outlays.

Congressional Republicans, in their “Pledge to America,” contend that jobs can be created by keeping taxes low, cutting spending and eliminating regulation. There is no mention of public investment.

And then we have the tea party, which thinks “public” means “socialist.”

Obama could have — should have — based his economic recovery strategy on making U.S. infrastructure world class. Alas, he didn’t.

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