In his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama is expected to make the case for government investment in areas that promote economic growth: infrastructure, education, and energy. And House Republicans have seized on this intention in an interesting way.
As George Zornick noted yesterday, the GOP seems to believe that “Obama’s calls for ‘investment’ are simply a conspiracy to increase federal spending.” “When we hear invest from anyone in Washington, to me that means more spending,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). “When the President talks in his speech about investment, the American people need to understand that translates into spending,” reiterated Sen. John Thune (R-SD).
As Zornick put it, “obviously, government investment in education, energy, infrastructure and other areas would necessarily involve federal spending, and Obama is not attempting to hide that.” And Cantor himself admitted in an interview yesterday that the state of U.S. infrastructure is unacceptable:
Cantor acknowledged the need to “address” the nation’s aging transportation system, and cited congested and outmoded aviation networks and crumbling roads and bridges as national concerns. “I don’t think anybody would tell you that our nation’s transportation infrastructure is in a state of existence that we would accept,” he said.
Cantor is certainly correct that the state of U.S. infrastructure is shameful, though he dodged on the obvious solution (Hint: government investment!). According to the latest Report Card for America’s Infrastructure from the Army Corps of Engineers, it would take a $2.2 trillion investment to get America’s infrastructure into good condition, including $930 billion for roads and bridges and another $160 billion for schools.
But even as Cantor acknowledges this reality, House Republicans are ready to take a hatchet to the infrastructure budget (while their states crumble around them). The Republican Study Committee last week proposed cuts to passenger and high-speed rail, while Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who is delivering the Tea Party response to the State of the Union, wants to cut the federal highway program and federal grants to airports. These suggestions come at a time when “some 85 percent of all transit agencies across the country have been forced to cut service, raise fares, lay off employees or all three during this economic downturn.”
On its face, the GOP assault on investment is a silly word game, but at its core, it reinforces the counterproductive belief that government has no role in providing roads that are drivable, water that is safe to drink, or schools that can educate a 21st century workforce. Hopefully Obama makes a strong case for the competing vision — that our long-term economic competitiveness means making smart investments now in the things that will pay off later.