NPR logo Obama's Labor Day Plan: Where Would He Get $50 Billion? How Fast Would It Work?


Obama's Labor Day Plan: Where Would He Get $50 Billion? How Fast Would It Work?

President Obama gives a speech at a Labor Day rally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  David Banks/Getty Images hide caption

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David Banks/Getty Images

Yesterday, during a visit to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, President Obama called for a $50 billion investment in infrastructure.

"This will not only create jobs immediately," he said. "It's also going to make our economy hum over the long haul."

It's a plan that history tells us can and should attract bipartisan support. It's a plan that says even in the aftermath of the worst recession in our lifetimes, America can still shape our own destiny.

Another quotation from the president's address caught my eye: "This is a plan that will be fully paid for and will not add to the deficit over time — we're going to work with Congress to see to that."

The president's proposal raises a couple of questions: Where would the money come from? How long would it take to have any tangible effect on employment numbers?

According to The New York Times, "the spending could come over the next six years, but would require Congress to approve an initial investment of $50 billion."

The plan is to rebuild 15,000 miles of roads, construct and maintain 4,000 miles of railway and rehabilitate or reconstruct 150 miles of airport runways.

The surface transportation infrastructure bill would supply additional funding, if congress chooses to renew it. (As POLITICO points out, it "has been overdue for reauthorization for a year.")

There would be an "infrastructure bank," "to leverage federal dollars and focus on the smartest investments," the president said.

We’re going to continue our strategy to build a national high-speed rail network that reduces congestion and travel times and reduces harmful emissions.  We want to cut waste and bureaucracy and consolidate and collapse more than 100 different programs that too often duplicate each other.  So we want to change the way Washington spends your tax dollars.  We want to reform a haphazard, patchwork way of doing business.  We want to focus on less wasteful approaches than we’ve got right now.  We want competition and innovation that gives us the best bang for the buck.

The Washington Post reports it is "a more formal version of a long-standing pledge to improve the nation's crumbling infrastructure." (On the campaign trail, Obama advocated for new spending on transportation and green energy.)

The White House says that, if it did away with several subsidies and tax breaks afforded to the oil and gas industry, it would have $50 billion to finance the plan, no problem.

The odds of congress passing such a spending bill probably aren't great. At least not in the short-term.

According to The Times, "though transportation bills usually win bipartisan support, hasty passage of Mr. Obama’s plan seems unlikely, given that Congress has only a few weeks of work left before lawmakers return to their districts to campaign and that Republicans are showing little interest in giving Democrats any pre-election victories."

Yesterday, House Minority Leader John Boehner said that, "if we've learned anything from the last 18 months, it's that we can't spend our way to prosperity."

All that is a nice segue into the second of those two questions: How long would it take to have any tangible effect on employment numbers?

"We're not like trying to put out an idea today that, in October 2010, this is going to create a lot of jobs," a senior administration official told McClatchy News Service. "This is not what this is."

If the proposal gets through congress, chances are it won't lead to any new hires until next year.

We'll probably learn more details tomorrow, when Obama is scheduled to speak at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio.