Image via California High-Speed Rail Authority
In his Labor Day speech two days ago, the president announced plans for a $50 billion stimulus package that would take aim at updating the country's lagging transportation infrastructure. He called for Congress to approve an infusion of funds for highway, air traffic control, and, yes, high speed rail projects, that would lead to the "immediate" creation of jobs and give a boost to the economy. Obama said that the bill would be paid for by eliminating the tax subsidies currently given to profitable oil and gas companies. Will the plan point the country's transit sector in a more sustainable direction? In short, almost certainly not. See, it'd be a different question altogether to ponder whether such a plan would be a good idea, but since there's about a snowball's chance in hell of Obama's plan actually getting approved by Congress, those ponderings grow moot.
In theory, a plan that eliminated tax breaks for oil companies and channeled the funding towards high speed rail projects that generated thousands of new jobs seems like a fantastic idea. But there are, as always, political problems -- not to mention the fact that $50 billion is just simply too small to make meaningful progress on the number of projects the president included in the plan (upgrading air traffic control towers, repairing highways).
Those political problems are the biggest hurdle -- a brand new spending bill, no matter how it is paid for, is an easy target for the GOP. Republicans can simply shoot it down as another example of a the tax-and-spend liberalism that has taken over the country. The party is not about to allow Obama or the Democrats any kind of notable victory (especially one viewed as being beneficial to the economy) before the November elections, whether or not the country's infrastructure indeed needs repairing or upgrading.
Paul Krugman sums up his reaction to the plan in a terse blog post at the New York Times in three simple points:
1. It's a good ideaAll that said, the backbone of the idea is definitely appealing, as the proposal of slashing oil subsidies and directing the funding towards public transportation projects like railways instead could make for a politically viable way to steer the nation's transit investment towards a more sustainable future.
2. It's much too small
3. It won't pass anyway -- which makes you wonder why the administration didn't propose a bigger plan, so as to at least make the point that the other party is standing in the way of much needed repair to our roads, ports, sewers, and more- not to mention creating jobs.
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