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CG/LA Infrastructure's InfraBlog

Is Congress really going to miss its free lunch on infrastructure?

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Posted by Neil Irwin on February 11, 2013 at 11:05 am

Since the election, there have been hints that we could be entering a period with some actual productive, bipartisan dealmaking, most explicitly on immigration reform. But the Republican reaction to Obama’s expected proposals on infrastructure in Tuesday’s State of the Union address may be a better indicator of whether we are in for a year of real legislative give-and-take—or a return of the ugly politics of the last several years.

It will also be an indication of whether the U.S. government is going to let a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges more or less for free slip through its fingers.

The early buzz from the White House is that while Obama will discuss the current legislative hot-buttons of immigration and gun control, the economy is a major focus of his speech. In particular, he will call for new infrastructure investment—roads, bridges, power grid, that sort of thing.

The big question on infrastructure is whether the White House is correctly reading the politics of the moment. Could Congressional Republicans be ready to sign on to some form of large-scale investment in the nation’s transportation and energy infrastructure? Or is Obama tilting at windmills (literally, in this case).

It comes as we may be approaching the end of a five year period in which investing in the nation’s physical infrastructure has been something close to a free lunch. With interest rates near all-time lows and millions of construction workers unemployed, the last few years have been a time that it would have been a historical bargain for the United States to do upgrades to roads, bridges, and airports that will eventually need to take place anyway. It has been a political breakdown—in particular conservatives’ view of almost any non-defense federal spending as wasteful—standing in the way…

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Taken from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/02/11/is-congress-really-going-to-miss-its-free-lunch-on-infrastructure/

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