The GOP Roadblock to Repairs

Congress is at a standstill while it admires our crumbling infrastructure.

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A motorist guides a Ford sedan over the cracked roadway filled with potholes that is 90th Avenue in Federal Heights, Colo., in this photograph taken on Monday, March 9, 2009.

In 2005, the World Economic Forum ranked America's infrastructure Number 1 in the world for "economic competitiveness." Only eight short years later, the U.S. occupies 14th place. Instead of leading our global competitors in planning, staying current and building a transportation system for the 21st century, we have continued to invest at the same rate (in real inflation-adjusted dollars) as we did in 1968.

By way of example, Canada spends 4 percent of its GDP on transportation, investment and maintenance, with China spending 9 percent. The U.S. spends only 1.7 percent.

More than 69,000 of America's bridges are deemed structurally deficient, more than 11 percent of all the bridges in our country. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the U.S. would need to invest $3.6 trillion between now and 2020 just to keep its infrastructure in "good" repair.

As a nation, our cities have become more congested, our commutes more delayed and our companies less productive.  According to UPS, five minutes of daily delay for its trucks adds up to $100 million lost annually.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

President Obama has long understood that investments made to our nation's infrastructure will create jobs here in America that can't be outsourced or replaced overseas. Interestingly, this is the same dynamic that has united two bitter enemies, the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, around their mutual quest to see Congress appropriate more funding for infrastructure projects.

Even Republicans seem to understand the need, or at least they have indicated so at times. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said, "Everybody knows we have a crumbling infrastructure.  Infrastructure spending is popular on both sides. The question is how much are we going to spend." Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., once claimed, "If you're a Republican and you want to create jobs, then you need to invest in infrastructure that will allow us to create jobs."

This week, President Obama proposed to cut corporate taxes and to invest in infrastructure projects to boost American jobs, all while being "revenue neutral."   These are concepts that have been championed by Republicans in the past, but generally ignored in recent times.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

Unfortunately, true to form, the GOP backlash was immediate, claiming Obama's plan offered them no concessions at all. McConnell said on the floor, "The plan, which I just learned about last night, lacks meaningful bipartisan input," and thus will he oppose it. As the president suggested in a recent interview with the New York Times, "there's almost a kneejerk habit right now that if I'm for it, then they've [Republicans in congress] got to be against it."

So, once again, Congress is at a standstill while it admires our nation's crumbling infrastructure. Seemingly, Republican leadership would rather put up roadblocks than work with the  president to build and restore some of our nation's fundamental structural needs to remain economically competitive – operative roads, bridges, dams, levees and rails. There are only 61 days left before the next government shutdown and nine legislative working days on the calendar in September. This limited time and opportunity will require leaders from both sides to step forward and work efficiently to pass the necessary legislation to get this country back on track. 

Perhaps, while members of Congress are away in August, they will actually remember what they were for before they were against it.

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