by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
President Obama’s national infrastructure bank is dead on arrival, the Republican chairman of the House Transportation Committee said Wednesday.
At a hearing ostensibly held to discuss the merits of the bank, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) ridiculed the proposal as something that would cost more jobs than it would create.
“A national infrastructure bank, as proposed … is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives,” Mica said. “If you want a recipe to not get people to work, adopt that proposal.”
Democrats fired back by questioning why Mica was holding a subcommittee hearing on the proposal when it appeared he had already decided against the plan.
“The majority seems to have already made up its mind about this proposal,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas).
The evidence, Johnson said, was in the very name of the hearing: “National Infrastructure Bank: More Bureaucracy and More Red Tape.”
The infrastructure bank is a key component of Obama’s jobs package, which Senate Democrats are now breaking into smaller parts after the measure failed to move forward in the upper chamber on Tuesday night.
Obama would invest $10 billion to create the bank and a national fund for transportation projects. Advocates say the money could be used to lure investment in public-private partnerships that are increasingly popular in the transportation sector.
Obama has tried to sell the proposal, which was introduced in the upper chamber this spring by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), as a bipartisan idea that would create jobs quickly.
But Mica said Wednesday that 33 states already have infrastructure banks of their own. The problem, he said, is keeping them adequately funded.
“You’ll hear from the Oklahoma transportation secretary in a minute … he’ll tell you they have the bank, they don’t have the money,” Mica told members of the subcommittee. States are “up against the wall,” he said.
“They don’t have the money to finance a national infrastructure bank,” Mica argued.
For his part, Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Gary Ridley called the proposal for a national infrastructure bank “untimely and unnecessary.”
“For financing transportation projects, the states only require clear federal guidance in the law and the continued and enhanced utilization of existing financing opportunities,” he said in written testimony submitted to the subcommittee. “A bold, new vision will be necessary to meet the increasing transportation challenges ahead, and it is unlikely that such a vision will be defined by an easy payment plan.”
Ridley said his state has had an infrastructure bank since the 1990s, “but it’s not capitalized.”
“We haven’t had a use for it,” he said.
Making the case for including the infrastructure bank in his $447 billion American Jobs Act, Obama has tried to argue that not only is the plan backed by lawmakers from both parties, but also by normally adversarial advocacy groups.
“The idea for a big boost in construction is supported by America’s largest business organization and America’s largest labor organization,” he said in a September speech to Congress. “It’s the kind of proposal that’s been supported in the past by Democrats and Republicans alike. You should pass it right away.”
But Republicans on the House subcommittee weren’t buying it Wednesday.
“ ‘Shovel-ready’ has become a national joke, because we don’t have projects that are shovel-ready,” Mica said.
The infrastructure bank is joined by $50 billion in infrastructure spending in Obama’s jobs act proposal. The complete jobs act bill was voted down Tuesday night in the Senate on a mostly party-line vote.