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July 06, 2011 9:55 AM A love/hate relationship with infrastructure

By Steve Benen

Rep. Bobby Schilling (R) of Illinois hosted a town-hall meeting in his district the other day, and as Dave Weigel noted, the Republican congressman didn’t stick to the traditional script.

Schilling has been critical of the stimulus law, which was enacted before he was elected. But he said Friday more of the money should have been devoted to infrastructure projects.

“If the government would have taken a lot bigger chunk of that money and put it into infrastructure, we’d be doing a lot better today,” he said.

Oh, great. Now we have conservative House Republicans arguing publicly that the Democrats’ stimulus bill wasn’t liberal enough when it came to public investments. The GOP has been attacking the Recovery Act for so long, the party no longer even notices that it’s arguing, simultaneously, that it spent too much and spent too little.

Of course, the dirty little secret is that Republicans have been engaged in this little shell game for quite a while. Remember the “Highway Hypocrites”? These are the conservative Republican lawmakers — representing most of the House caucus — who swore up and down than additional spending, including in areas like infrastructure, would be awful for the economy, right before they begged the Obama administration to spend the money on their constituents, argued it would create jobs, and showed up smiling at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Sam Stein had a fascinating piece late yesterday documenting the extent to which far-right GOP lawmakers, including many zealous anti-government freshmen, who continue to fight tooth and nail for infrastructure spending, certain that the public investment would create jobs and boost their local economies, only to send out press releases scolding “out of control” and “reckless” federal spending.

When pressed, these same Republicans will offer an explanation that “sounds like something out of the mouth of a Keynesian economist, rather than the musings of a congressman who proudly touts his support from the Tea Party movement.”

If hypocrisy were the only problem here, it would still be quite a story. It gets worse, though, when we notice that the very same GOP officials who believe infrastructure spending is good for the economy are also trying to slash infrastructure spending.

The next flash point in the debate over the nation’s will to live within its means may emerge this week as House Republicans present a long-term transportation bill expected to cut funding for highways and mass transit by almost one third.

Should the bill emerge from the House unscathed, it may collide head-on with a very different Senate version that is marginally closer to a proposal from the White House.

Republicans clearly know these cuts would be bad for the economy. Indeed, it’s clear because these same Republicans keep saying public investment in infrastructure is good for the economy.

And yet, they’re doing this anyway. Republicans apparently feel like they have no choice — they’re against spending because it’s bad for the economy, and that includes the spending they support, because they believe it’s good for the economy.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • c u n d gulag on July 06, 2011 10:01 AM:

    "Well, sure - spend money in MY district!
    But that other one over there - they'll just waste it."

    And yet, despite all the evidence in front of their noses, they still do...

    Well, of course they do.
    Damn the evidence!
    Spending money to make money doesn't "FEEL" right.


    CAPTCHA - mutatio onalegio
    Is that one of the lost Goldberg variations by Bach, or is there some freak outside my window?

  • jjm on July 06, 2011 10:08 AM:

    Republicans are prone to idiocy, in the etymological sense, as they are indoctrinated to think of no one but themselves.

    What's been coming out of their mouths these past few weeks is pretty demented if you look at it as a whole.

  • gelfling545 on July 06, 2011 10:15 AM:

    Definition: "Reckless Gov't Spending" any amount spent by a gov't body that benefits someone who is not you.

  • walt on July 06, 2011 10:16 AM:

    I'm going to repost this comment from the Stimulus thread since it's equally apropos:

    Republicans may be craven and vile but they're not stupid. They knew the stimulus would work, which is why they did everything possible to limit it. There is simply no historical record that shows that austerity is a better program than Keynesian economics. Everyone knows this.

    Republicans will win these talking-points wars because they lie as other people breathe. Once a Republican is president in 2013, they'll find ways to pump money into the economy while still blaming Obama for high unemployment. If the economy improves as a result, proof that austerity works! When someone points out that the deficits are still high, they'll shake their heads and blame Obama. And Obama will get blamed if it rains during your picnic. Etc, etc.

    I don't enjoy knocking Obama for what's happened but if your leadership style tends to passivity, you will not control events so much as be controlled by them. Obama core economic team failed him. Republicans routinely fail America. But it's Obama's failure that ultimately matters most. You either ride this bronco called destiny or you die trying. What's Obama's point? A second term? That's simply not good enough.

  • j on July 06, 2011 10:24 AM:

    On PBS radio a few minutes ago, I heard a statement made this morning by Mitch McConnell before the talks with Pres. he said "We have to hold fast because we must avoid a spending spree"
    I wanted to scream at the radio - Mate, you had the spending spree for 10 years, now all we want to do is pay for it.

  • mellowjohn on July 06, 2011 10:25 AM:

    spending in my district is vital to the national economy.
    spending in your district is a pork barrel project.
    spending in his district is just pissing away taxpayer money.

  • Todd for VT House on July 06, 2011 10:37 AM:

    It's a pretty impressive dance: get money to your district to stimulate, create jobs, so you can claim credit for good things and get re-elected; bash the president's policies so you can help your party nationally. Now that the Casey Anthony trial is over, perhaps people will pay more attention to their gambit...

    *waits for people to stop laughing*

    And then widnica Chancel monkeys flew out Captcha's ass.

  • zeitgeist on July 06, 2011 10:54 AM:

    the Republican game is actually a little more clever than just "my district, good; your district, bad."

    the Republicans are making a bet that the Democrats will bail their asses out.

    Republicans are in a tough spot: they fired up a Tea Party predicated on the rantings of Grover Norquist to make sure Obama wouldn't have enough funds to do popular things. But they also need to deliver for their own districts.

    So the game here is for Republicans to say all the right things, and have the House do the Tea Party thing. They assume the Democratic Senate will actually do the correct thing. Then it goes to conference and behind closed doors without much in the way of names attached, what comes out provides enough cash to go around. The R's can go back home and say "we tried to cut spending, but those damned tax-and-spend Democrats in the Senate and White House kept writing checks anyway - at least I managed to get some for you!"

    They can be publically reactionary, because they have the comfort of knowing that the Democrats are their safety net.

  • Sam Simple on July 06, 2011 12:53 PM:

    This post illustrates why American politics has just become a theater of the absurd, where one political party talks out of both sides of its collective mouth, while the other party grovels, plays defense 24/7 and works diligently to give away everything it gained over the last century.

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