Word is that in tomorrow's State of the Union address, Barack Obama is going to propose some new infrastructure spending. Not only as a way of boosting the economy in the short term by creating jobs in areas like construction, steel, concrete, those little plastic anchors you put around screws when you're putting them in brick, and so on, but also as an investment that pays long-term dividends in the form of bridges that work and sewer pipes that don't burst. As Neil Irwin points out, given the large number of construction workers sitting idle and the incredible fact that the United States can now borrow money at negative interest—something that won't be true forever—it would be crazy for us not to take advantage of this moment and start doing some long-overdue repairs. "One can easily imagine a deal," Irwin writes. "Democrats get their new infrastructure spending, and Republicans insist on a structure that requires private sector lenders to be co-investors in any projects, deploying money based on its potential return rather than where the political winds are tilting." I'm with Kevin Drum on this: Why on earth would we expect Republicans to go along?
Remember last June, when Obama said that if he got re-elected, the Republican "fever may break" and they'd return to their senses? Well, how's that working out? Not so good. Republicans may be moving a bit on immigration, and a few of them may be moving a bit on guns. But if anything, those visible changes will encourage them to be even more intransigent on budget issues, so they can assure themselves and their constituents that they're still standing up to Obama. The ones currently in charge may like to have the occasional bridge built in their own districts, but there's no evidence that they care about the nation's infrastructure as a whole. Or if they do, they care about it far less than they care about standing in Barack Obama's way.
And that, my friends, is what will finally break their fever: a new president. Specifically, a Republican one. I have little doubt that when the next Republican moves into the Oval Office, congressional Republicans will suddenly become very reasonable on a whole host of issues. That isn't to say they'll move the center, however you might interpret that. But they'll stop doing all this crazy stuff like threatening to push the country to economic ruin unless they get their spending cuts. When there's a Republican in the White House and somebody proposes some new infrastructure spending, they'll give it a fair hearing. But not before then.
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