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Infrastructure on the Campaign Trail

August 31, 2012

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Last week brought some indications of the presidential candidates' thoughts on infrastructure, as the Republicans finalized their platform during their national convention in Tampa, Fla., and President Obama gave some hint of what we might we out of the Democratic platform with an interview in Time magazine.


"Infrastructure programs have traditionally been non-partisan; everyone recognized that we all need clean water and safe roads, rail, bridges, ports, and airports," notes the GOP platform. However, it says, "The current Administration has changed that, replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit."

The platform includes many provisions that were pushed by Republicans in the House during recent negotiations over the new highway bill, including reducing environmental regulations to help fast-track construction projects and using money that is earmarked for transportation for road and highway projects, rather than things such as public transit or bike paths -- or Amtrak, which the GOP attacks in its platform.


On highway funding, the GOP platform adds: "[S]ecuring sufficient funding for the Highway Trust Fund remains a challenge given the debt and deficits and the need to reduce spending. Republicans will make hard choices and set priorities, and infrastructure will be among them."

The platform also is against some alternative transportation funding methods, such as a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax, which a number of studies (including the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission and Rand Corp.) have recommended as a replacement for a fuel tax.

"We oppose any funding mechanism that would involve governmental monitoring of every car and truck in the nation," the GOP platform says of the VMT proposal.

President Obama talked briefly about infrastructure in an interview for the Sept. 10 issue of Time magazine.

White House correspondent Michael Scherer notes that "The American Jobs Act, which Obama drafted over the August 2011 recess, was never intended to win Republican support. It was a demonstration project to expose the ideologies of the Grand Old Party as more focused on fiscal restraint and wealthy taxpayers than infrastructure spending and middle-class benefits. Obama soon found he could make Republicans blink on small things....

"At one point," Scherer notes, "Obama even stood before an aging bridge that connected Ohio and Kentucky, the respective home states of Boehner and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell. 'Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge!' the President thundered."

The bridge he's referring to was the Sherman Minton bridge, which carries I-64 over the Ohio river, which was closed in September 2011 after a significant crack was discovered in a load-carrying element of the bridge. It reopened in February.

In a longer transcript on Time's website, Obama tells Scherer, "We still need to rebuild our infrastructure."

"So moving forward," Obama says, "What I want to make sure the American people understand is that investments in education, investments in basic science and research, an all-of-the-above American energy strategy, in making college more affordable, in rebuilding our infrastructure, our roads and our bridges and our ports and our airports - all those things that help make us grow are compatible with fiscal discipline as long as everybody is doing their fair share.

"And that's a story I'm doing my best to tell during the campaign."

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