Build, Baby, Build: The Governors’ Consensus

Bill Scher

Last month, I suggested that for their political viability, Republican politicians should join with Democrats around a “Build, Baby, Build” strategy of public investment to rebuild and revitalize our infrastructure.

It was likely to happen with or without their support. It would likely join Lincoln’s rails and Eisenhower’s highways as historic public work successes. And to be on the wrong side of history could be politically devastating.

Apparently, some Republicans have gotten the message.

Following today’s National Governors Association meeting, incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel told reporters that “there was a consensus” across gubernatorial party lines in support of infrastructure investment:

There was a consensus [among] Democratic and Republican governors about the need, given their economic situations, not just in their budgets but their economy, about the need for investments in infrastructure.

Some talked about roads, bridges, sewer systems, new schools. Some talked about what I would call the infrastructure for a 21st century economy: Medical IT, broadband. A lot of the infrastructure was around green technology, some on … high speed rail, mass transit, that stuff. Consensus around that.

Also talked about doing all this infrastructure but with reforms associated with them. … Governor Schwarzenegger brought up the fact that when they had situations in California some people said it would take two years to rebuild bridges etc. [but] they were able to do it in a shorter period time because they cut through what he described as generically ‘red tape.’

The criticism about investment in infrastructure is, ‘Can it move fast enough.’

There’s a general sense if you put a lot of reforms in, you can move resources that are critical in a fast way if you cut through the normal periods of times and studies, etc.

All of them agreed that they had projects today on the books pre-approved, ready to go whether that was the physical infrastructure of schools, roads, bridges, water systems, as well as other things that I would call 21st century infrastructure, medical IT, broadband … all of them had kind of a green technology, green infrastructure direction.

There was Democrat, Republican consensus about that.

Now, I suspect Emanuel may be overstating the breadth of the consensus. Governors Rick Perry (Texas) and Mark Sanford (S.C.) took to the Wall Street Journal opinion page to call for “targeted tax relief paid for by cutting spending,” which would preclude additional public investment in infrastructure. And Gov. Tim Pawlenty (Minn.), on MSNBC today, mischaracterized the federal government as “broke” and using “Monopoly money” presumably to undermine plans for more public investment.

But it also doesn’t make sense for Emanuel to throw around the word “consensus” without any basis. I can only assume he received enough Republican support to feel comfortable making the statement. The public investment bandwagon is filling up.

While the knee-jerk anti-government crowd is becoming increasingly marginalized, left to cooover Fred Thompson videos while the rest of us get to work rebuilding our country.

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