Obama Calls for Infrastructure Spending — for the Fifth Time in Five Years

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Speaking Friday in Miami, President Obama called for $21 billion in new national infrastructure investment. This is a strong break from past years — when he called for the creation of an infrastructure bank in the autumn.

In 2009, the newly elected president had his only success in getting Congress to approve money for infrastructure. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the stimulus bill — allocated tens of billions to highways, rail, and transit improvements. At the time, The New York Times hailed the deal, but with a caveat.

By one measure, the public- works spending in the stimulus package exceeds the promises President Obama made as a candidate. But by another, it falls short. …

[I]t does not create the national infrastructure bank he had called for to set national priorities and get big projects done.

That infrastructure bank is the key element of Obama's pitch for public investment. In short, it would create a new government entity to evaluate projects and issue bonds for their construction, leveraging an existing pool of money. But in 2009, Obama couldn't make the sale.

Nor could he in any year since. The infrastructure bank came up in September, 2010, as part of a request for $50 billion. He called for it in September 2011, as part of a Jobs Act proposal that would, again, put $50 billion into infrastructure. He called for it last February, when he revived the idea of the Jobs Act — and, of course, last fall on the campaign trail.

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During its election-year review of the president's campaign promises, Politifact labelled the infrastructure bank a "broken promise". Though that's not Obama's fault. It's Congress's fault. Only Congress can approve the creation of such an entity, much less authorize $21 billion in spending. And besides one fit of generosity in 2009, they've been reticent to do so since.

The ostensible reason Obama unveiled his initiative now is that he will unveil his complete budget on April 10, for which today was meant to act as a preview. But there may be another reason — that he's hoping to capitalize on his reelection and on the surprising disarray and acquiescence that the GOP has shown so far this year on tax cuts and funding for Hurricane Sandy relief. At what CNN called a "campaign-style event", Obama brought pressure on the House Republicans. NBC reports:

On Friday, Obama dinged Republicans for disapproving of blanket “government spending” but privately lobbying for infrastructure projects that create jobs – and boost their political popularity – at home.

“I know that members of Congress are happy to weclome projects like this in their districts,” Obama said. “I know because I’ve seen them at the ribbon cuttings.”

Obama's used that joke a lot before, too.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.