Obama vs. Obama on infrastructure spending
By Alec MacGillis
If anyone needs further proof of President Obama's deliberative, thinking-out-loud approach to big decisions, consider his announcement in today's speech on the economy that he is in favor of major additional infrastructure spending.
Just five days ago, at his big "jobs summit," Obama strolled into a break out session on infrastructure spending -- and spoke about why he was skeptical that infrastructure spending was a good tool for a short-term jobs boost.
Big infrastructure projects take too long to get going, he said, while less ambitious, faster-acting projects, like road repavings, offered little in the way of long-term payoff or transformation of the country's transportation system. That same conundrum has been visible in the infrastructure spending included in the $787 billion stimulus passed in February, he said.
"The tension that we have been seeing is that what is good long term may not necessarily work as an immediate short-term stimulus. We're still getting slapped around in the Recovery Act for this.... What happens is, infrastructure generally has a longer tail. The term 'shovel-ready' -- let's be honest here -- doesn't always live up to its billing," he said.
What's more, he added, projects that are legitimately "shovel-ready," such as roads to be repaved, "may duplicate the needs of the past as opposed to projects that are visionary and will really give a big bang for the buck long-term, but require some extensive planning. You want to measure twice before you cut it."
That did not sound like someone interested in investing billions more in infrastructure. Turns out, though, that was just Obama at his Socratic best, laying out the argument against the option he was strongly considering. Because today, he announced that the White House is coming out in favor of more infrastructure spending on roads, bridges, water systems and other projects, after all.
"There are many more worthy projects than there were dollars to fund them," he said. "I recognize that by their nature these projects often take time, and will therefore create jobs over time. But the need for jobs will also last beyond next year and the benefits of these investments will last years beyond that. So adding to this initiative to rebuild America's infrastructure is the right thing to do."
If he says so.
Web Politics Editor
December 8, 2009; 1:17 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Barack Obama
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