The Campaign Spot

Obama: Let’s Spend Billions to Fix What the Stimulus Was Supposed to Fix

There’s something eerily familiar about Obama’s latest round of pledges, promises, and plans for infrastructure spending.

The Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2011:

President Barack Obama is pressing Congress to create a new “infrastructure bank” to finance highway and rail construction, create jobs and jump-start the stalled economy, but the proposal faces hurdles on Capitol Hill. White House officials have described the bank as a new government entity that would make loans to support public-works projects of regional and national significance with private funding. That includes interstate highways, rail lines linking Midwest farmers to West Coast ports, and equipment for planes to link up to a new satellite-based air-traffic-control network.

Sounds great, right? It’s almost as if the president should have done this as soon as he took office, right?

Wait, wasn’t the stimulus supposed to do all this?

Obama, in the ceremony signing the stimulus bill:

Because we know we can’t build our economic future on the transportation and information networks of the past, we are remaking the American landscape with the largest new investment in our nation’s infrastructure since Eisenhower built an interstate highway system in the 1950s. Because of this investment, nearly 400,000 men and women will go to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, repairing our faulty dams and levees, bringing critical broadband connections to businesses and homes in nearly every community in America, upgrading mass transit, building high-speed rail lines that will improve travel and commerce throughout our nation.

Obama, discussing the stimulus to a group of mayors, February 20, 2009:

We’re remaking our cities with the largest new investment in our nation’s infrastructure since Eisenhower built an Interstate Highway System in the 1950s. Ray LaHood is going to be busy, because we’re putting 400,000 men and women to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and our bridges, repairing our faulty dams and levees, replacing our aging water and sewer pipes, and rolling out broadband lines to nearly every community in America. We’re going to unleash the potential of all our regions by connecting them with world-class transit systems and high-speed rail, making our metropolitan areas more livable and sustainable in the process.

Obama, touting the stimulus during a visit to the Department of Transportation, March 3, 2009:

Transportation projects that were once on hold are now starting up again, as part of the largest new investment in America’s infrastructure since President Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System. Of the 3.5 million jobs that will be created and saved over the next two years as a result of this recovery plan, 400,000 will be jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges and schools, repairing our faulty levees and dams, connecting nearly every American to broadband, and upgrading the buses and trains that commuters take every day.

(This is not a blanket denunciation of repairing highways and bridges. I’d start by widening the most highly trafficked roads in the country, a scorecard of which can be found here. Instead, the first project funded under the stimulus was $8.5 million to repair the Osage River Bridge east of Tuscumbia, Mo., with an estimated population of 296 people.)

But judging by Obama’s own rhetoric, we’ve spent billions upon billions and the infrastructure is still crumbling.

Obama in Decorah, Iowa, on August 15:

Now is not the time for us to not invest in infrastructure. We used to have the best roads, the best bridges, the best seaports, and these days China has got better airports than us. Europe has better rail systems . . . There is no better time for us to invest in infrastructure than right now — first of all, because we need it.

During a press conference on July 15:

If the only thing we’re talking about over the next year, two years, five years, is debt and deficits, then it’s very hard to start talking about how do we make investments in community colleges so that our kids are trained, how do we actually rebuild $2 trillion worth of crumbling infrastructure.

From his weekly address earlier in the summer:

We need to do what’s necessary to grow our economy; create good, middle-class jobs; and make it possible for all Americans to pursue their dreams. That means giving our kids the best education in the world so they have the knowledge and skills to succeed in this economy. It means rebuilding our crumbling roads, railways, and runways.

Somehow Obama made “the largest new investment in America’s infrastructure since the Interstate Highway System” and yet nearly three years later, the roads and bridges of his rhetoric are still falling to pieces. No matter how much we spend, we’ll be told that our infrastructure is crumbling like a stale doughnut and we absolutely must spend more. It’s easy to suspect that this spending isn’t really driven by physical demands but by a desire to keep the money flowing.

I suppose I should give the president credit for being green; now he’s recycling his promises.


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