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FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR

Obama leaves unfunded transportation mandate under pillow…

…in the hopes of finding $556,000,000,000 under it the next day.

No, it’s a legitimate analogy.  The National Journal has looked over the President’s proposed transportation bill (public link), and noted this (subscription only):

Obama wants $53 billion over six years for a high-speed rail program, $8 billion in fiscal year 2012, and he wants $50 billion this year to jump-start large infrastructure projects. The administration is proposing $336 billion over six years for roads and bridges, a 48 percent increase from the previous authorization. It wants $30 billion for an “infrastructure bank” to select and fund large projects on a competitive basis.

Where does the money come from? [Transportation Secretary Ray] LaHood deflected that query. “We’ll work with Congress on this, on the pay-for,” he said.

In other words, they don’t know where the money will come from.

OK, here are the parameters of the problem, as the National Journal is providing them: the people who are into surface transportation say that we need about $300,000,000,000 over six years to keep them maintained properly.  That number is almost certainly inflated, because those kinds of  numbers almost certainly are.  It’s also estimated by the Journal that the Republicans are going to squeeze existing funds and adjust agreements to find about $150,000,000,000 to pay for it; that number is almost certainly inflated, too.  In short, in pure back-of-the-envelope terms it looks like we are currently able to fund about roughly half of the bare minimum of our transportation infrastructure needs without needing to get more money from somewhere.

And the President (in the form of the Department of Transportation) is silent on where the rest of the money is going to come from.  But he wants it!  And high speed rail (NO.) and a slush fund for infrastructure projects (NO.) and an infrastructure bank (NO.) and a bunch of other sources of largess that can be tapped for, frankly, their political value.  However, this is not the 111th Congress, which was happy to throw the President his cut while they got on with looting the Treasury; this is the 112th Congress, whose House is run by people who campaigned and won on a platform of Don’t spend money that we don’t have, you idjits. And the cupboard is bare.  Also: there are no supernatural creatures flitting around that can provide the government with magical money that never, ever causes inflation when it is unceremoniously dropped into the economy with no warning.  I know that his advisers think that there are, but there aren’t.  So now is the time for tough choices.

In other words: if the President wants to fully fund the roads, he needs to tell Congress which of his pet domestic policies he’s prepared to cut in exchange.  And if Obama refuses to cut any of those domestic policies – which would mean that the President would consider all of them to be more important than keeping the roads functional – well, that tells us something that we probably didn’t want to know, but do need to know, about the competence and maturity level of the executive branch right now.

Moe Lane (crosspost)

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