Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Well, That's More Like It...

That didn't take long.

Just when I was obsessing about the boning the Obama Administration planned to give us somewhere down the road on healthcare, wouldn't you know that the Repbublicans would pick up the broom handle and ... I'll leave that to your imagination:

Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked Democrats from adding $25 billion for highways, mass transit, and water projects to President Barack Obama's economic recovery program.

Already unhappy over the size of the measure, Republicans insisted additional infrastructure projects be paid for with cuts elsewhere in the bill.

But the Democratic amendment garnered 58 votes, just shy of the supermajority needed under Senate budget rules, and many more efforts to increase the measure's size are sure to follow.

Senate GOP blocks extra $25B in stimulus package

Never mind that it was just a few days ago that one of their number, Rep. John L. Mica (FL-07) said this about the infrastructure portion of the original stimulus bill:

Even some Republicans echo the call for more infrastructure spending, saying they would be more willing to support the bill if it showed more tangible and focused benefits, instead of being scattered across an array of existing programs. Rep. John L. Mica (Fla.), the ranking Republican on the transportation committee, called the proposed infrastructure spending "almost minuscule" and expressed regret that the administration had not crafted its plan around an ambitious goal such as building high-speed rail in 11 corridors around the country, which Mica said would cost $165 billion.

"They keep comparing this to Eisenhower, but he proposed a $500 billion highway system, and they're going to put $30 billion" in roads and bridges, he said. "How farcical can you be? Give me a break."

Administration officials and defenders of the stimulus package say that the plan should be seen as just a start of Obama's priorities, and that there will be chances to do more later, such as in the five-year transportation bill that will come before Congress this year.

Democrats Among Stimulus Skeptics

Of course, like all the other Republicans, Mica voted against the stimulus bill, but his point remains valid. That $30 billion would have been barely enough to fund one mass transit program, Seattle's light rail expansion program:

The numbers might be enough to make voters dizzy: a full 50 miles of light rail, to be built over 20 years, at a long-term cost of $23 billion.

Sound Transit is betting that when citizens say they want light rail, they mean it.

The agency's governing board Thursday approved asking voters in November to extend the system south to Tacoma, east to Overlake and north to 164th Street Southwest at Ash Way in Snohomish County.

Proposed Light-Rail Extension Heading For Ballot

For those of you who don't have a map handy, that's a pretty extensive network. It's roughly 50 miles through mostly urban or suburban areas. As the article said, that project is scheduled to take 20 years, but there's almost certainly no reason it couldn't happen sooner if the money were there. It's also not the only major transportation project we have going out here. We have a traffic revision in downtown Seattle that may rival Boston's Big Dig in cost and complexity, loads of road improvements and buses to buy, and at least one floating bridge to replace. These are all multi-billion dollar projects. Seattle is just one largeish city, too. Multiply those numbers by twenty or thirty and you get some idea how much money is needed just for urban transportation in the next decade or so. Add that to Rep. Mica's estimate of how much those new trains will cost, toss in a few tens of billions for all the bridges that are about to fall down in this country, and you've got yourself a multi-hundred billion dollar bill.

Yet all but two Republican Senators voted against cloture on this far more modest proposal. These are the same Republican Senators, mind you, who sat around for four years while we blew billions of dollars trying to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure with no oversight (PDF), unqualified contractors, and quite often no clear specifications as well. They sat by while plane loads of money and weapons were lost in Iraq (PDF), and didn't even bother to hold hearings. Am I supposed to believe these guys are now concerned about fiscal responsibility?

Frank Rich had them pegged pretty well a few days ago when he wrote:

[Y]ou might think that a loyal opposition would want to pitch in and play a serious role at a time of national peril. Not by singing “Kumbaya” but by collaborating on possible solutions and advancing a policy debate that many Americans’ lives depend on. As Raymond Moley, of F.D.R.’s brain trust, said of the cross-party effort at the harrowing start of that presidency in March 1933, Hoover and Roosevelt acolytes “had forgotten to be Republicans or Democrats” as they urgently tried to rescue their country.

The current G.O.P. acts as if it — and we — have all the time in the world. It kept hoping in vain that the fast-waning Blago sideshow would somehow impale Obama or Rahm Emanuel. It has come perilously close to wishing aloud that a terrorist attack will materialize to discredit Obama’s reversals of Bush policy on torture, military tribunals and Gitmo. The party’s sole consistent ambition is to play petty politics to gum up the works.

Herbert Hoover Lives

[link from original article] Hoover, of course, was the guy who didn't want to spend too much and ruin that wonderful post-1929 economy.

I sure am glad things have returned to normal. For a while, it looked like the Democrats were going to replace Republicans as the biggest obstacle to progress. It's quite clear now that the Republicans don't intend to be outdone.


(h/t Dana Hunter for that Mica quote.)

UPDATE (Feb. 6): For more on the importance of infrastructure, check out klynn's excellent diary on the subject at Oxdown/FireDogLake.

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