Republicans in Washington have little love for President Obama’s jobs plan and his proposal to pay for it. But the president may find a warmer reception from Republicans governing on the local level. The U.S. Conference of Mayors--a bipartisan national group for mayors of major cities--has openly embraced the American Jobs Act, with key Republican mayors offering high praise for the president’s infrastructure spending plan. And the group has come to Washington this week to press that point upon Congress, the White House, and the supercommittee.
Cornett says that, by contrast, Congressional Republicans have not put forward any substantial plans to revitalize the country’s infrastructure. “They’re not against infrastructure, they’re against debt. But there needs to be a reprioritization--infrastructure needs to be a higher priority,” he says. Such spending, in Cornett’s view, could revitalize the national economy wherever projects were being implemented locally. “When you have a lot of construction going on, it sends a message of vitality that builds up consumer confidence. It gets people to spend money when they see that energy, that things are happening.” John Boehner has recently suggested that infrastructure investments could be one place for “some common ground” but hasn’t put forward any specific plans.
It’s not the first time that state and local-level Republicans have broken from the national Republican party line to ask for federal aid. In early 2010, 47 governors--including GOPers Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie--signed a letter asking for an extension of federal Medicaid spending under the stimulus. And after the debt-ceiling deal passed, the Republican mayor of Mesa, Ariz.--who’s also second vice-president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors--openly criticized the impact of draconian budget cuts and austerity on local governments.
Earlier this month, the leadership of the U.S. Conference of Mayors commended the Americans Jobs Act when the president first unveiled his proposal. In a statement, they called it a “true Main Street plan” that would “finally end our country’s economic paralysis, help the unemployed find jobs again and put our people back to work.” They singled out the president’s proposal to fund infrastructure spending, singling Obama’s support for a program created by the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.
However, the Republican mayors on board with Obama’s infrastructure plan still seem like outliers within the current debate. While flagging infrastructure as a priority, the Republican Governors Association fiercely criticized Obama’s jobs plan for raising taxes. “Instead of pushing for a jobs-killing $1.5 trillion tax hike, President Obama should follow the example of Republican governors who have shown it’s possible to close massive budget deficits without raising taxes while investing in key areas like infrastructure and education,” says Phil Cox, the RGA’s executive director. Even outside groups like the Chamber of Commerce who had previously supported key proposals like the infrastructure investment bank have come out against the bill as a whole, saying it falls short.
Cornett himself admits that he doesn’t support Obama’s entire jobs act--or the president’s plan to pay for it. He warns, for instance, that the bill’s direct temporary aid to local governments could put officials in a tough spot further down the road. “If we can’t afford it today, we won’t be able to afford it tomorrow,” he says. More significantly, though Republicans on the local level may be more inclined to support Obama’s infrastructure plan, they won’t necessarily agree with him about how to pay for it. Cornett considers Obama’s proposed tax increases as an impediment to “job creators.” Instead, he proposed cutting back social programs like welfare, food stamps, and other entitlement programs to help pay for infrastructure spending. But he faults Republicans as well for being unwilling to touch such spending. “I have not heard the GOP come up with very many good solutions because I think everyone’s afraid of taking on Social Security,” he concludes.
Given such political constraints, Cornett is skeptical that Obama’s jobs plan will be able to pass. But he credits the Obama administration for being far more receptive than the previous White House to hearing out the concerns of city leaders on the local level. And he believes the long-standing bipartisan support for infrastructure spending will eventually return, despite the current political constraints. “There are a lot of things that government doesn’t do well. One of things that government does do well is build stuff,” he concludes.”