JONATHAN CHAIT JANUARY 24, 2011
...David Frum has some pretty interesting ideas. A taste:
The right kind of focused, temporary government spending can also be a powerful job creator. Over the next generation, we desperately need to improve our road, air, and rail networks and to modernize our systems for distributing electricity. We should be doing as much as possible of this work now, to spur recovery.
Unfortunately, infrastructure investment has been a victim of our broken politics. The money does not go to the best projects. The money is earmarked by the most powerful politicians. We need a new tunnel under the Hudson. We get a bridge to nowhere.
I propose that all revenues from gasoline taxes, aviation fees, and other similar sources be placed in a fund directed by an independent infrastructure bank. The bank would be permitted to issue bonds up to a certain level, too. Instead of Congress writing a highway bill every five years, the bank would develop a list of priorities — no politics allowed. I'd suggest we have seven directors of the bank. Three would be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Two would be nominated by a conference of the Republican state governors, two more by a conference of the Democratic state governors. The directors would serve fixed and overlapping terms. When we're balancing the budget, we can move slowly through the list of bank infrastructure priorities. In a year like 2011, when it's cheap to borrow and workers need jobs, we can bring projects forward faster. Congress would always have the last word, in an up-or-down vote. And Congress would decide whether to increase or reduce the flow of future tax revenues into the infrastructure bank.
Every American will have the reassurance that these new infrastructure projects are not pork barrel. They were not chosen to reach some political deal. The money you pay at the pump or at the airport or in future taxes on carbon dioxide and other pollutants will be reinvested toward faster travel, more advanced telecommunications, and cleaner water.
Sadly, the speech is probably all done. You know that if Bill Clinton were president, he'd just be getting around to spitballing the major themes right about now, and he might well just steal Frum's whole speech. Sigh.