After President Obama finished his second inaugural speech, Republicans jumped to claim that it was a “full-throated defense of government activism,” and that “he seeks to move the country even further left.” Overall, the conservatives concluded, the speech was partisan.
The only problem? It wasn’t. On every major issue addressed during the inaugural on Monday, a majority of the public agrees with Obama. The speech was not so much a shift to the left as a microphone for the majority.
Here’s a look at the points of Obama’s speech, by the numbers:
In 2005, the levees of New Orleans famously buckled during Hurricane Katrina, contributing to the devastation of that city and surrounding communities. Officials were warned that the levees were a problem before the storm, yet did nothing to ensure that they could hold through the strongest of storms.
New Orleans’ levees may have been improved (and mostly held through Hurricane Isaac). But according to an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, hundreds of levees around the country are in need of “urgent repair“:
Inspectors taking the first-ever inventory of flood control systems overseen by the federal government have found hundreds of structures at risk of failing and endangering people and property in 37 states.
Levees deemed in unacceptable condition span the breadth of America. They are in every region, in cities and towns big and small: Washington, D.C., and Sacramento Calif., Cleveland and Dallas, Augusta, Ga., and Brookport, Ill.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to issue ratings for a little more than 40 percent of the 2,487 structures, which protect about 10 million people. Of those it has rated, however, 326 levees covering more than 2,000 miles were found in urgent need of repair.
By some estimates, more than half of Americans reside in counties “that contain levees or other kinds of flood control and protection systems.” Even leaving out the billions of dollars in damage cause by Katrina, levee failures have cost the U.S. hundreds of millions of dollars in the last few decades.
The American Society of Civil Engineers said in a report this week that America faces an infrastructure deficit of $1.6 trillion, which will grow to $2.75 trillion over the next decade, costing the country 3.5 million jobs. But public investment in infrastructure, which was already too low, has plunged since the Great Recession.
Congressional Republicans in 2011 blocked the American Jobs Act, which included some desperately needed funds for infrastructure improvements. But even the money in that bill would have been a drop in the proverbial bucket when it comes to America’s infrastructure needs.
According to a new report from the American Society of Civil Engineers, America’s infrastructure deficit stands at $1.6 trillion and will grow to $2.75 trillion over the next decade, costing the country trillions of dollars in wasted economic potential and millions of jobs:
[T]he consequences of infrastructure shortfalls differ by each system. With degrading surface transportation, trips can still be made, but they would take longer and be less reliable, and travel could be less safe. Declining airport and marine port infrastructure directly impacts the nation’s ability to import and export goods efficiently, driving up costs to U.S. consumers.
Overall, if the investment gap is not addressed throughout the nation’s infrastructure sectors, by 2020, the economy is expected to lose almost $1 trillion in business sales, resulting in a loss of 3.5 million jobs. Moreover, if current trends are not reversed, the cumulative cost to the U.S. economy from 2012–2020 will be more than $3.1 trillion in GDP and $1.1 trillion in total trade.
A bridge in Paulsboro, New Jersey collapsed Friday morning, derailing a train carrying highly flammable and carcinogenic vinyl chloride into Mantua Creek. The most recent reports say at least 28 people are having trouble breathing from the spill’s vapors and residents are being evacuated. Local schools are in lockdown.
This is the second time in four years that this bridge has collapsed. In 2009, the bridge buckled and plunged several coal cars into the creek. The bridge has certainly weathered a lot of wear and tear since it was built in 1873. Residents were not surprised last time it collapsed:
Gary Stevenson, a former Paulsboro fire chief whose two-year-old house is a matter of yards from the buckled bridge, said he has become accustomed to a “boom, boom, boom” noise as trains cross the span. “The exact section where they are at,” Stevenson said, pointing to Conrail workers surveying the damage. “Boom, boom. The exact section.” Conrail crews, “are there twice a week” as of late, Stevenson said. The bridge with an iron A frame dates to 1873 two years older than his grandmother’s house on whose ground Stevenson built his residence. … [Mayor John] Burzichelli observed “things could have been a lot worse.” No rail cars overturned. Burzichelli noted the affected cars were carrying coal not hazardous liquids.
Even if the Mantua Creek bridge is successfully repaired after this latest disaster, there are thousands of similar “time bomb” bridges around the country ready to collapse at any moment. The average American bridge is now 43 years old — and a 2008 Department of Transportation survey determined that 72,868 are “structurally deficient,” while 89,024 are “functionally obsolete.”
Despite the urgency of this crisis, US spending on infrastructure is projected to fall short by $139 billion or more over the next decade. Meanwhile, Republicans have pushed for a devastating cut of $871 billion in infrastructure investment.
Paulsboro Mayor Burzichelli apparently reached out to Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) for expedited repairs to the Mantua Creek bridge in 2009. Lautenberg introduced a bill in 2011 to encourage private investment in infrastructure and bolster federal funding. The bill, unfortunately, went nowhere.
As Paulsboro struggles to clean up this most recent mess, it’s worth remembering that infrastructure investment is not only desperately needed, but would also provide a huge boost to the economy. A new study found that every dollar invested in infrastructure has a return for state economies of at least $2. The effects are even more pronounced during an economic downturn.
The United States has a massive infrastructure deficit, with independent analysts finding that the country could need as much as $2 trillion in immediate investments just to bring its infrastructure up to date. With the economy recovering slowly and our nation’s roads and bridges crumbling, a new paper from the San Francisco Federal Reserve found that making investments into infrastructure has substantial short- and medium-term benefits for the economy.
Federal highway grants to states appear to boost economic activity in the short and medium term. The short-term effects appear to be due largely to increases in aggregate demand. Medium-term effects apparently reflect the increased productive capacity brought by improved roads. Overall, each dollar of federal highway grants received by a state raises that state’s annual economic output by at least two dollars, a relatively large multiplier. [...]
In other words, for each dollar of federal highway grants received by a state, that state’s GSP rises by at least two dollars.
The initial impact of increased highway spending, the study finds, is due to an increase in aggregate demand. That is, it increases money held by workers who build the highway, who can then spend that money in other parts of the economy. The medium-term impact of infrastructure spending comes from increases in productivity and economic capacity offered by new infrastructure. During economic downturns, though, the effects are even larger. When the authors analyzed the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus), they found that the effects of infrastructure funds spent in 2009 and 2010 were roughly four times larger than normal.
After the success of his first stimulus, President Obama pushed for another investment into infrastructure in 2011. The American Jobs Act, independent analysts found, would have created as many as 2.6 million jobs and boosted the economy by as much as two percentage points, but Republicans blocked it. Instead, House Republicans chose to disinvest in the economy, pushing for $871 billion in cuts to investment spending — much of it in infrastructure — in their latest budget. But while the GOP has argued in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy to boost the economy, the San Francisco Fed paper proves that the “failed stimulus” they often decry actually provides major benefits to the economy, especially during downturns and slow recoveries.
LOUISVILLE — There is no better time than now to invest in America’s crumbling infrastructure, Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth (D) told ThinkProgress in an interview this week. With the nation facing high unemployment and in need of a massive upgrade to its roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects, the government should take advantage of historically low borrowing costs to put people back to work, Yarmuth said:
YARMUTH: These are surefire job creators, it’s work that has to be done. This is not elective surgery, this is life-saving surgery, as far as the infrastructure is concerned. And we’ve never been able to borrow money cheaper. As a matter of fact, people are giving us money for 10 years now. It is the absolute right time to do it, and I think the payback over time would be substantial.
Yarmuth’s home district experienced a major infrastructure crisis in 2011, when a bridge between Indiana and Kentucky was closed because of structural deficiencies. That isn’t a rare problem: across the country, bridges and roads are failing in increasing numbers.
Republicans, however, have consistently opposed infrastructure investments that would fix those problems, even as roads and bridges in their own districts and states crumble.
As Yarmuth notes, the United States has never been able to borrow money cheaper. Real interest rates on government bonds are now lower than the rate of inflation, meaning the government would have to pay back less than it borrowed to fix the problems. And as he also noted, the problems are not optional: roads, bridges, sewer systems, and other infrastructure needs must be addressed at some point.
Republicans, meanwhile, repeatedly blocked the American Jobs Act when it was proposed last year, complete with its investments in infrastructure. They pushed for reductions in the amount of infrastructure spending contained in the 2009 stimulus law, and they want to lower the cost of highway bills that would pay for new and existing improvement projects. In the name of fiscal responsibility, Republicans have prohibited necessary spending on the nation’s infrastructure, even though the projects will only grow more expensive in the future.
Mitt Romney on Friday visited Louisiana in order to tour damage from Hurricane Isaac, one day after delivering his address to the Republican National Convention. The first day of that convention, of course, was dominated by the Republicans’ continued use of a dishonestly edited quote to claim that President Obama thinks small businesses owners had nothing to do with their business. (Taken in context, it’s painfully obvious that Obama was referring to roads, bridges, and the American education system when he said, “you didn’t build that.”)
As Romney tours the storm damage, it’s worth noting that government-funded levees prevented far greater damage from occurring in New Orleans, seven years after the city was battered (and the levees failed) during Hurricane Katrina:
Isaac’s whistling winds lashed this city and the storm dumped nearly a foot of rain on its desolate streets, but the system of levee pumps, walls and gates appeared to withstand one of the stiffest challenges yet…Isaac arrived seven years after Hurricane Katrina and passed slightly to the west of New Orleans, where the city’s fortified levee system easily handled the assault.
More than 85% of the nation’s estimated 100,000 miles of levees are locally owned and maintained. The reliability of many of these levees is unknown. Many are more than 50 years old and were originally built to protect crops from flooding. With an increase in development behind these levees, the risk to public health and safety from failure has increased. Rough estimates put the cost at more than $100 billion to repair and rehabilitate the nation’s levees. [...]
There is no definitive record of how many levees there are in the U.S., nor is there an assessment of the current condition and performance of those levees…As of February 2009, initial results from USACE’s inventory show that while more than half of all federally inspected levees do not have any deficiencies, 177, or about 9%, are expected to fail in a flood event.
By one estimate, more than half of Americans reside in counties “that contain levees or other kinds of flood control and protection systems.” And if Romney gets his way on the budget, those systems would be starved of funds and left to languish.
During an interview with Fortune magazine that was published today, Mitt Romney said that he would eliminate federal funding for Amtrak as one of his cuts aimed at balancing the budget:
So first there are programs I would eliminate. Obamacare being one of them but also various subsidy programs — the Amtrak subsidy, the PBS subsidy, the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to strand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf.
This is certainly not the first time that Romney has singled out Amtrak for the budget cutting knife. “Amtrak ought to stand on its own feet or its own wheels or whatever you’d say,” he told a crowd earlier this year. But, leaving aside that the cuts Romney highlights are not going to get him anywhere close to balancing the budget, Romney intends to slice Amtrak funding at a time when funding for rail service is more necessary than ever.
Amtrak announced earlier this year that it is on pace to break the ridership recordit set last year. By 2040, Amtrak “Amtrak said traffic in the [Northeast] corridor could reach 43.5 million passengers, almost four times the level today.”
However, as the New York Times noted, Amtrak desperately needs some upgrades: “Most days, trains in the Northeast are full. Several locomotives and railcars are 30 years old or more. Aging rails, bridges and tunnels hold down top speeds and limit expansion of the network.” America’s freight train infrastructure is also deteriorating.
Already, the National Association of Railroad Passengers has warned that cuts to Amtrak that are being pushed by House Republicans “would be tantamount to shutting down the entire Amtrak network, because the remaining routes could not cover the system’s overhead costs.” Obviously, eliminating Amtrak’s funding entirely would have much farther reaching consequences.
Our guest blogger is Kristina Costa, a research assistant with the Doing What Works project and the economic policy department at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Since Saturday’s announcement of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as Mitt Romney’s running mate, a good deal of attention has been focused on what Ryan’s so-called “Path to Prosperity” budget would mean for programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
But Ryan’s proposed budget path also aims to reduce federal discretionary expenditures — including money spent on defense — to just 3.75 percent of GDP by 2050. That means dramatic cuts to programs for the poor, to primary and secondary education, to public safety, and to infrastructure spending. The Ryan budget proposes spending 25 percent less than the White House’s proposed budget does on transportation programs — just $78 billion per year.
America’s national infrastructure is famously in disrepair, with a GAO study finding as many as one in four bridges nationwide “deficient” in some way. A Center for American progress analysis earlier this year concluded that meeting our national infrastructure repair and improvement needs would require at least $129 billion per year in new investment, above current levels, for the next 10 years; other reports have put that number even higher.
Infrastructure spending creates jobs in construction and other sectors — every $1 billion in federal highway expenditures in 2007 supported as many as 30,000 jobs. And national infrastructure does more than move people — it moves stuff. While freight infrastructure — rail, inland waterways, and ports — may seem prosaic in comparison to wide-open highways or advanced high-speed rail, the goods movement system is of vital importance to our economy. And, like so many better-knownexamples of infrastructure failure and decay, America’s freight infrastructure is in trouble.