Remember last Labor Day, when President Obama used the national stage to roll out a $50 billion infrastructure plan to create jobs by repairing and expanding roads, runways, and railways? That proposal became irrelevant almost immediately. It met a shrug from the Democrat-controlled Congress and was followed by a massive upheaval in the mid-term elections that led to a Republican majority in the House.
Now, Obama is trying again. But this time he's striking out on his own. Last week, he announced a jobs and infrastructure effort that can happen entirely within his domain. Over the next month, several federal agencies will identify "high-impact, job-creating infrastructure projects" that can be expedited now, without congressional approval. The order extends to the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, and Transportation, which will each select up to three high-priority infrastructure projects that can be completed within the control and jurisdiction of the federal government. The plan is considered a "common-sense approach" to spurring job growth. In practical terms, it will mean speeding up the permitting and waiver processes for green-building or highway projects to get the government out of the way. One of businesses' foremost complaints with government infrastructure projects is that the paperwork is too cumbersome and creates unnecessary delays, according to White House economic advisers.
What is left unsaid in the administration's rollout of the infrastructure project is that this may be the extent of the president's powers while Congress embroils itself in months-long talks on cutting the deficit and responding to the White House's jobs plan.
Will it work? How effective will it be? What kinds of infrastructure projects are in the holding pen that will be unleashed with this directive? How will the administration's infrastructure effort impact the broader talks on reauthorizing the surface transportation funding system? Will a sped-up waiver process facilitate new public-private partnerships? How many jobs can be created just by eliminating red tape?