Political Animal


February 11, 2013 4:13 PM Flunking the Infrastructure No-Brainer

By Ed Kilgore

WaPo Wonkblog’s Neil Irwin is correct, if perhaps too logical, in identifying infrastructure investments as the kind of issue on which Republicans and Democrats in Congress ought to be able to come to relatively quick agreement:

[W]e 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.

Irwin brings this up in anticipation of the President’s State of the Union Address, which will undoubtably include a call for major infrastructure investments that will have all sort of conservative knees jerking. But there’s also the pending issue of the March 1 appropriations sequestrations, from which most infrastructure spending (including Highway Trust Fund disbursements and the flexible Community Development Block Grant program) is not exempt.

It seems unlikely congressional Republicans will be able to restrain themselves from their usual treatment of federal infrastructure investments as an unholy combination of wasteful pork, “fascist” industrial policy, and pagan environmentalism. The idea of making the inevitable investments now to take advantage of low borrowing costs runs directly into the conservative conviction that runaway inflation and high interest rates are going to break out the very day after tomorrow. And when it comes to the sequester, Republicans are mostly divided into those willing to accept it and those determined to push for even more domestic spending reductions in order to avoid or limit the hit defense spending is about to take.

So smart as it might be, I suspect Republicans won’t accept Irwin’s reasoning tomorrow night, or any time soon.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on February 11, 2013 4:27 PM:


    Where has this guy been for the last, oh, I don't know, 4 years - or, in reality, for the last 19 years?

    Modern Conservatism has only two major schools of "thought:"
    -Do the opposite of anything any Democrat or Liberal wants to do, and do anything you possibly can to retard any progress whatsoever, lest the Democrats get credit for it.
    -Do ANY and EVERY thing you can to make the economy worse when Democrats are in charge, so that people feel that they have no choice but to vote for the Republicans - never mind that we're the cause of any and all problems, we'll have FOX and Rush provide cover, and the MSM will reflexively say that BOTH parties are responsible.

    They have done NOTHING constructive for the country since the Civil Rights Acts, and supporting the EPA and OSHA under Nixon.

    Reagan and both Bush's did NOTHING for this country except help to further feck things up for the poor and middle class by arranging for their money to be funneled up to the rich like that money was a bunch of loose dollar bills lying around the ground, getting sucked up in a tornado.

    In the last 30+ years, they have done everything possible to reverse the progress it took 45 years to get.

    But give the sociopaths some credit - they've been remarkably successful at what they've been doing.

    Of course, betting on enough of 'We the people's' stupidity, ignorance, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and/or homophobia, has proven to be a pretty good winning hand.

    Are you sure that piece was by Neil Irwin, Ed, and not Professor Irwin Corey?

  • howard on February 11, 2013 4:28 PM:

    you would hope that conservatives, of all people, would recognize that the people of the past made an investment in infrastructure and that investment needs to be maintained and upgraded, just as people's homes must be.

    and, in fact, honest conservatives do get that, but since what we have primarily today are crazed right-wingers who call themselves conservatives....

  • Josef K on February 11, 2013 4:54 PM:

    So smart as it might be, I suspect Republicans won’t accept Irwin’s reasoning tomorrow night, or any time soon.

    Sure, sure. Publically, the Republicans will moan and groan and deny the inherent logic of actually fixing roads and keeping the streetlights burning.

    BUT there's also the truism that "all politics is local", and I'll wager even the dimmist bulb in the GOP conference can comprehend they need to spend money in their home districts if they want to keep their jobs (and the perks). So I'm not willing to write off the GOP doing the sensible (if wholly self-serving) thing here and accepting infrastructure funds in the next appropriation.

  • boatboy_srq on February 11, 2013 5:24 PM:

    @Josef K: this is the same Teahadist crowd that refused disaster relief for its own constituents without matching budget cuts elsewhere to pay for it (remember Cantor's resistance to Hurricane Sandy aid?). There is no "spending money in their home districts" if it means [gasp] adding to the budget deficit. Because "we're broke" and all that.


    It has been a political breakdown—in particular conservatives’ view of almost any non-defense federal spending as wasteful—standing in the way.

    Say rather that spending for defense is particular Conservatist fetish. These people really will order up new ICBMs, CVNs, M1A1s, V-22s and a host of other high-ticket items whether the tax dollars exist to pay for them or not. Give the DoD the entire budget for 2014 - deficit and all - and they'll sign on happily. Spending in the absolute is not the problem: it's spending on those Other people that is the key issue.

    Perhaps the best, quickest fix would be to nationalize the construction industry under the DoD, either directly attached to the Army Corps of Engineers or indirectly as DoD contractors. Two possible outcomes, each with distinct advantages: a) infrastructure gets prioritized, and resistance to that spending gets steamrolled by "support the troops" efforts; b) the DoD finally gets the kind of budget scrutiny it desperately needs, and "strong on defense" gets replaced with "smart on defense."

  • Anonymous on February 11, 2013 7:48 PM:

    @ boatboy_srq on February 11, 2013 5:24 PM:

    I LIKE IT!!

    The Repugnant Ones would gladly vote to add a few hundred billion dollars to DoD and we would have the best infrastructure in the world.


  • yellowdog on February 12, 2013 5:49 AM:

    Now might be an interesting moment to ask the GOPers in Congress about funding the ports of Charleston and Savannah. Graham and Scott went off the deep end last year to get funding for Charleston. Meanwhile, every GOP official in Georgia is busy trying to get funding for Savannah in the name of job creation. It's amazing in a party that usually denies public spending is anything but evil.

    To quote the governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal (R), on the subject: "President Obama has said repeatedly that he wants to create good jobs for Americans. Deepening the [Savannah] harbor is exactly the sort of public sector effort that will jump-start massive job creation in the private sector."

    Read it again. I declare, here at the beginning of Lent, I did not make it up.