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A New Transportation Secretary to Push an Old Obama Favorite: Infrastructure Spending

The administration has often found ways to work around Congress to get money it seeks for transportation projects.

Fallon Forbush


April 30, 2013 - 2:30 pm
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Infrastructure has been a longtime favorite of the Obama administration.

During the president’s 2013 State of the Union address, he proposed a “Fix it First” program, calling for $50 billion in frontloaded infrastructure investments as part of his “Plan for a Strong Middle Class & a Strong America.”

Back in 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that Obama signed into law obligated $48.3 billion of stimulus funds for Department of Transportation (DOT) projects, as reported Jan. 28, 2013.

On July 6, 2012, Obama also signed a multi-year transportation authorization bill, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which funds transportation programs at over $105 billion for fiscal years 2013 and 2014.

But the flow of cash has ended, say infrastructure spending proponents.

Surrounded by first responders, Obama in February urged Congress to take action against the automatic budget cuts, which did not sit well with GOP leadership and didn’t make fiscal conservatives in Congress budge.

“Now for two years, I’ve offered a balanced approach to deficit reduction that would prevent these harmful cuts,” Obama said. “I outlined it again last week at the State of the Union. I am willing to cut more spending that we don’t need, get rid of programs that aren’t working. I’ve laid out specific reforms to our entitlement programs that can achieve the same amount of healthcare savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms that were proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission.”

Obama’s event at the White House “proves once again that more than three months after the November election, President Obama still prefers campaign events to common sense, bipartisan action,” Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said.

At a Feb. 25 press conference, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) urged the president to “stop campaigning.” “Instead of using our military men and women as campaign props, if the president was serious he’d sit down with Harry Reid and begin to address our problems,” he said. “The House has acted twice, we shouldn’t have to act a third time before the Senate begins to do their work.”

This gridlock, however, is a situation the administration likes to find ways to work around.

Bypassing the “do-nothing” 112th Congress was the M.O. of the president’s first term in which he started his We Can’t Wait initiative. The initiative’s approach relied on avoiding Congress and taking executive actions, several of which involved expediting millions for infrastructure and transportation projects.

Back in August 2012, for instance, the administration announced that it would repurpose more than $470 million in unspent earmarks from fiscal year 2003-2006 appropriations acts. According to the DOT, 49 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico were authorized to use the funds for new infrastructure projects.

“My administration will continue to do everything we can to put Americans back to work,” Obama said at the time of the announcement, when 11.3 percent of the construction sector was unemployed. “We’re not going to let politics stand between construction workers and good jobs repairing our roads and bridges.”

“At a time when one in five construction workers is out of work, these are the jobs we need, and we need them right now,” LaHood also said at the time.

Alabama was able to allocate $51,488,747.50 of unobligated balances to a total of 21 new projects; Ohio $12,536,823.13 for 15 projects.

According to Doug Hecox, public affairs specialist with the Federal Highway Administration, the various projects across the board have been underway since Dec. 1, 2012.

The sector is still struggling nearly six months later.

In fact, even more of the sector is unemployed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for the construction sector is now 14.7 percent.

Hecox said he could not comment on the unemployment rate.

“It’s the start of a new year, but it’s the same old story; too many Americans are out of work,” said Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), new chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for the 113th Congress. “President Obama refuses to make job creation and the welfare of the American people a priority. … House Republicans have been working towards real solutions and it’s time for the President and Senate Democrats to come to the table and work together to grow our economy.”

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Fallon William Forbush is an award-winning journalist whose work has been recognized by The Ohio Newspaper Association and The Society of Professional Journalists (Central Ohio Pro Chapter) for excellence in reporting. Fallon first wrote for Hannah News Service, covering committee meetings of the Ohio Legislature before moving to Washington, D.C. He is also a practitioner of public relations with experience ranging from agency to grassroots communications. Follow Fallon on Twitter.

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All Comments   (8)
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As a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) I concur with the report that gives America's infrastructure very low marks.

However, I dissent from ASCE's Washington-centric approach that lobbies for greater Federal resources for local infrastructure.

The roads, bridges, sewer systems, water treatment plants, and electric grid infrastructure is largely owned by state, local, and private organizations. For decades the US Department of Transportation has taken the lion's share of gas taxes collected at the pump, and distributed pennies-on-the-dollar back to the state and local governments that own and maintain the infrastructure.

Taxes collected on the sale of airline tickets are supposed to go to upgrading FAA air traffic control systems, but money gets wasted in high-priced consulting studies that do little to streamline air traffic control.

Wastewater infrastructure is deficient because redundant and ineffective EPA regulation has wastewater utilities jumping down rabbit holes collecting information on so-called pollution constituents that are irrelevant to human and environmental health.

If Washington really cared about the state of the US infrastructure, it would get its nose out of 90% of infrastructure issues that it sticks its nose into. If Washington cut its share of the taxes, the state and local governments would have more money to fix the problems in a cost-effective manner.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I might support someone interested in building real world infrastructure. We really do need to increase the interstate inventory, rebuild the older ones, and replace thousands of bridges all over the country.

Unfortunately anyone nominated by ObamaRx only will be interested in pie-in-the-sky crap like high speed rail and electric cars.

As for the air traffic controllers, privatize it and let the airlines and airports foot the bill. Impose big fines on the airlines unless they meet certain safety and reliability standards, and everything will go much smoother.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
When are people going to wake up and understand that importing 2 million people a year, legal and illegal, is simply not working?

We are outstripping our ability to deal with it on an economic and infrastructural level. Next will come food and resources - they are finite. We do not need more people, we need fewer.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The infrastructure issue isn't about providing jobs, it's about maintaining first world status. Many of our big cities, like Detroit, are crumbling into ruin because infrastructure has not been kept up. As road and bridges fail, sewer and water systems collapse, etc., the US will slip more and more backwards and the bill to fix it will rise.

Politicians, however, seem to be too stupid to understand this and keep spending money on new projects and other things that are "sexier" and they can slap their names on, that is when they aren't stealing maintenance money to spend on vote buying gimmicks, which is what got us in this mess in the first place.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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