It’s been a rough week for the administration’s transportation proposals.
First, President Obama's jobs bill -- which calls for $50 billion in infrastructure spending -- died in the Senate Tuesday night. Then, to add insult to injury, a House transportation subcommittee blasted his proposal for a national infrastructure bank – a cornerstone of the bill and of the administration’s overall transportation vision -- as “dead on arrival.” Today, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood fired back at Republicans and implored them to pass both the jobs bill as well as a re-authorization of the country’s surface transportation programs, which has been stalled since 2009. LaHood repeatedly emphasized his own Republican roots during a speech at the National Press Club that sought to portray transportation investment has a non-partisan issue that can stimulate the economy. He also evoked quotes from Ronald Reagan that emphasized the importance of infrastructure and said that, in the past, transportation legislation has been passed by wide margins that transcended party affiliation. “Our politics are so broken that we can’t connect the people who need work with the work that needs to be done,” LaHood said. Still, LaHood did concede that the infrastructure bank concept the administration has touted so frequently now faces serious challenges since House Republicans have made their opposition crystal clear. When asked how the proposal would be received by Republicans – given Wednesday's vocal opposition by members of the transportation committee -- LaHood wasn’t optimistic. “Probably, that’s not going very far,” he said of the proposal. Obama has pitched a national infrastructure bank as a way to help states and localities leverage their finances and build large-scale projects more quickly. His proposal is modeled on legislation crafted by Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.). Republicans on the House transportation committee, however, say a national infrastructure bank would only contribute to an already dizzying array of red tape that they’re trying to reduce in the upcoming surface transportation authorization. Instead, they’ve suggested expanding on existing finance mechanisms, such as state-based infrastructure banks and the federal TIFIA program. LaHood told Governing that TIFIA is mostly limited to roads and bridges, but a national infrastructure bank could finance a wider range of projects such as locks, dams, and water and sewage plants.