Obama Presses for Billions in Infrastructure Spending

Posted October 11, 2010 at 12:16pm

President Barack Obama on Monday injected new urgency into the need to pass a $50 billion infrastructure spending bill, but it remains to be seen whether his latest push will translate into action in the lame-duck Congress.

Emerging from a high-profile meeting on infrastructure investments, Obama described the nation’s “woefully inefficient” transportation system and said there is no reason why Congress should not act quickly on his proposed spending package.

The idea of investing in infrastructure is “something that traditionally has broad bipartisan support,” he said during brief remarks in the Rose Garden. “All we need is the political will.”

The president had huddled with a range of local and state leaders Monday morning to discuss the state of the country’s transportation system, as well as to highlight a new White House report that points to the positive economic effects of infrastructure investments. Meeting participants included Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Obama highlighted that his $50 billion proposal would rebuild 150,000 miles of roads, lay or maintain 4,000 miles of railways and restore 150 miles of airport runways over the next six years, creating a wealth of jobs along the way. “For years we have deferred tough decisions. … It should not take another collapsing bridge or failing levee to shock us into action,” he said, referring to the 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis and the breached levees in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

But the White House’s sense of immediacy may fall on deaf ears on Capitol Hill, where some say there is very little time or appetite to act on such a proposal this year. Obama pushed for Congressional action last month, but it “landed with a thud,” according to one senior Democratic aide, and the proposal gained no traction among Democrats wary of increasing federal spending before the midterm elections.

“It’s unlikely we could do anything that big” in the lame duck, a senior House Democratic aide said.

A Senate Republican leadership aide offered “a free reality check” to the White House: “It would have been a lot easier if this event had been held before the Senate left for the elections,” the aide said. “And because the November lame-duck session is all booked up, the very earliest the Senate could consider the president’s proposal now would be December, and that’s assuming that the committees could/would want to act in time. A huge ‘if.'”

White House officials stayed vague on how aggressively they will push Congress for action this year. “We’re going to work with Congress on timing for this important bipartisan idea. Will keep you posted on developments as we move forward,” one White House aide said.

During a conference call Sunday, White House officials said there have been discussions with Democratic Congressional leaders and key lawmakers about acting on the proposal, but nobody would say whether Obama is gunning for action in this Congress.

“We’d love to work on this and do this as quickly as possible,” one official said. “We don’t have announcements of days or a timeline, but clearly this is one of the next things the president is focused on.”