Later this morning President Obama will keep up his push on the economy with another speech in Florida, this one focused heavily on the need for more infrastructure spending. Today’s proposals, like Obama’s other ones on the economy, are probably dead on arrival, given implacable GOP opposition.
But infrastructure spending is another area in which the White House will quietly try to woo the support of the bloc of GOP Senators who have lately shown unexpected willingness to cooperate with Democrats. While the focus of these efforts to win over this new Compromise Caucus is mostly on matters like Obama’s nominations, immigration, the debt ceiling and the push to replace the sequester, there will also be a quiet push to sound them out on infrastructure spending.
This is far fetched, to be sure. But it’s worth noting that infrastructure spending to boost the economy is a no-brainer — indeed, some Republican Senators are already on the record supporting it.
For instance, Susan Collins has claimed that reparing the nation’s transportation infrastructure is “essential to economic recovery and cannot be left solely to state governments.” Lindsey Graham has claimed that “if you’re a Republican and you want to create jobs, then you need to invest in infrastructure that will allow us to create jobs.” And Richard Shelby has said: “Infrastructure spending is essential to our long term economic stability and growth.”
In fairness, these Republicans supported infrastructure spending in somewhat different contexts. Obama is likely to keep pushing for such spending to be paid for by closing tax loopholes enjoyed by the wealthy and corporations. And it remains unclear at best if any Republicans will seriously embrace any kind of new revenues. But the point is that some Republicans are already on record confirming that infrastructure spending is a good way to boost growth and the economy. And with Republicans such as John McCain, Graham, Collins, Johnny Isakson, Bob Corker and a few others seemingly open to genuine talks designed to find a budget compromise — and seemingly open to at least discussing new taxes — the White House will try to introduce infrastructure spending into the mix.
Sounds impossible, I know. But as Jonathan Cohn reported earlier this month, one area for such cooperation could be the Panama Canal. With the canal getting a major upgrade designed to allow easier access to the United States for huge cargo ships from Asia, U.S. ports could be poised to gain in a big way — but some are being held back by the need for funds to modernize. So you can bet the White House will quietly reach out to GOP Senators who want federal money to upgrade ports — Graham is already on record calling for this — and raise the prospect of a broader infrastructure spending deal.
Not gonna happen, right? Probably not. But infrastructure spending will be another area in which one of the key questions of the moment — whether there is a sizable group of GOP Senators who have had it with the GOP leadership/Tea Party alliance’s refusal to enter into the sort of compromises that lie at the heart of basic governing, and if so, what they will do about it — will be tested.
* NSA SURVEILLANCE PROPOSAL FAILS, BUT FIGHT WILL CONTINUE: The House late yesterday narrowly defeated a bill that would restrict NSA surveillance only to cases where there is a connection to an ongoing investigation. However, the vote — 217-205 — carries some good news: the very closeness of it suggests there is a broad based left-right coalition developing that will continue to push for NSA reform.
Given that lawmakers on both sides have expressed discomfort with secrecy, you’d think there’s still hope, at a minimum, for the most basic of reforms: declassifying the FISA court opinions authorizing NSA surveillance. At any rate, the push will continue.
* LIBERALS PUSHING DEMOCRATIC PARTY TO THE LEFT: An interesting New York Times overview of how some liberals are urging the Democratic Party to take on a more populist posture on issues from student loan rates to Wall Street regulations to the coming battle over whether Dems should acquiesce to entitlement benefits cuts as part of any grand bargain. This is one salutary effect of a trend I and others have noted before: the influx of energetic, populist liberals into the Senate, and their determination to challenge the centrist consensus.
* LIBERALS UNHAPPY WITH STUDENT LOAN DEAL: Related to the above, the Senate has approved a deal that would tie student loan rates to market rates but put a cap on how high they can go, prompting these objections from liberal Senators:
The plan does not address the $1 trillion in student loan debt that already exists. It does not address the growing cost of a college degree. It does not reduce the billions of dollars in profit they say that the government earns from these loans. And it establishes a rate-setting system that will probably lead to higher rates.
Elizabeth Warren moved to cap rates at the current level, but that amendment failed.
With the Obama administration poised for a huge public education campaign on healthcare reform, Republicans and their allies are mobilizing a counter-offensive including town hall meetings, protests and media promotions to dissuade uninsured Americans from obtaining health coverage.
Party officials, political analysts and lobbyists say the coming showdown will mark a new phase in the years-old battle over healthcare reform by shifting the focus from political ideology to specific examples of how “Obamacare” allegedly falls short, just as the administration presses the public on its benefits.
So Republicans will explicitly be hyping “specific examples” in order to show that Obamacare is a disaster. The worry among Obamacare supporters, of course, is that some news orgs will do the same.
* QUOTE OF THE DAY, IMMIGRATION REFORM EDITION: Via Roll Call, which reports on the House GOP’s inability to imagine how Republicans might solve their “Steve King” problem on immigration:
How do you solve a problem like Steve King?
“You can’t,” Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina said of his fellow House Republican colleague from Iowa. “You don’t.”
Hmmm. How about passing comprehensive immigration reform? Wouldn’t that do it?
* AND TODAY’S PLUM READS:
A must read from Congressional scholar Norm Ornstein on what makes the GOP’s efforts to sabotage Obamacare an affront to basic governing norms and truly unprecedented. As Ornstein notes, not only is this multi-front effort all about denying people the benefits of an existing law for explicitly political reasons; it also has the support of the GOP leadership.
Glenn Greenwald on the failure in the House of the amendment reining in NSA surveillance and what it says about the growing bipartisan coalition pushing for NSA reform.
Glenn Kessler rips apart the zombie claim of hundreds of dead voters in South Carolina, exposing yet another “voter fraud” myth.
Alexis Simendinger on why Democratic pollsters think the GOP strategy of running against Obamacare is bound to fail, despite the law’s unpopularity, because voters will interpret it as more of the usual partisanship and obstructionism.
The League of Conservation Voters commissions a poll showing that younger voters overwhelmingly recognize the problem of climate change. Maybe continuing hostility to climate science isn’t in the GOP’s long term interests…
Paul Krugman deflates the silly pundit meme that Obama’s speech failed to offer enough “new” ideas about how to boost the economy; we already know what needs to be done.