Obama’s infrastructure bank proposal faces first test in Republican-led House

President Obama’s shifting sales pitch for transportation spending will be put to the test when the GOP-led House takes up his proposal for a national infrastructure bank next week.
 
Advocates for reshaping the nation’s roads and bridges have criticized Obama for focusing his message on infrastructure. The president’s argument loses some effectiveness when it is focused on hard-to-visualize infrastructure rather than readily apparent crumbling roads and bridges, they say.
 

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Lately though, the president has talked about roads and bridges almost exclusively. In campaigning for his jobs package, he has even gone to a bridge that connects House Speaker John Boehner’s (R) home state of Ohio with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R) home state of Kentucky.
 
The Republican leadership is lukewarm at best about Obama’s proposal to spend $10 billion to create a national infrastructure bank to lure private investment for road projects.
 
“While I support innovative financing to meet our nation’s infrastructure needs, the multibillion-dollar, Washington bureaucracy-based infrastructure bank President Obama is advocating raises many concerns,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said in a statement this week.
 
Mica’s committee has scheduled a hearing Wednesday to consider the president’s proposal, a key part of Obama’s $447 billion jobs bill.
 
But Mica has already made clear he is not inclined to follow Obama down the road to a national infrastructure bank. 
 
“A more positive approach would be to build on the 33 existing state infrastructure banks which lack financial backing but are in place, can get projects selected and moving and put people to work on an expedited basis,” Mica said.
 
While Obama’s “pass this bill” mantra has drawn comparisons to former President Harry Truman's “give 'em hell” campaign in 1948, liberal commentators have pushed the normally-reserved Obama to also channel another former President, Franklin Roosevelt, and make the case for re-building the nation as literally as possible.
 
“President Obama should identify construction projects…roads that need fixing, bridges that are in danger of collapsing, and dare the Republicans to vote against these projects and the jobs they create in their own areas,” MSNBC host Chris Matthews said on a recent broadcast of his show “Hardball.”
 
Obama appears to have taken the advice.
 
In addition to visiting the bridge that connects Kentucky and Ohio, he cited specific projects this week in an hour-long news conference to promote the Jobs Act.
 
“Some of you were with me when we visited a bridge between Ohio and Kentucky that’s been classified as ‘functionally obsolete,’” Obama said this past Thursday. “That’s a fancy way of saying it’s old and breaking down. We’ve heard about bridges in both states that are falling apart, and that’s true all across the country.”
 
If Obama’s message has changed, it hasn’t been enough to convince Republicans so far. They are not only cool to the idea of the bank; they also haven’t warmed to Obama’s plan to spend $50 billion on transportation projects.
 
Mica gave little reason to believe the debate would change any this week.
 
“This hearing will focus on questions relating to the estimated $270 million yearlong process of creating another federally backed agency designed to pick project winners and losers,” Mica said in comments that seemed to dismiss Obama’s proposals.
 
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The phrase “picking winners and losers” could foreshadow references in the forthcoming hearing on the Solyndra energy loan controversy, which some observers have worried could damper even further the GOP’s receptiveness to a loan-based program like the infrastructure bank.
 
Even without the Solyndra controversy, Obama this week acknowledged he may not be able to move the needle with Congress.
 
“The question, then, is, will Congress do something,” he said during his news conference this week.
 
“If Congress does something, then I can’t run against a do-nothing Congress,” Obama said. “If Congress does nothing, then it’s not a matter of me running against them; I think the American people will run them out of town, because they are frustrated, and they know we need to do something big and something bold.”