If you want proof that President Obama is distancing himself as far from Congress as he can, look no further than his proposed infrastructure budget. The White House proposed $476 billion over six years for surface transportation in the fiscal 2013 budget, which is at least $200 billion more than House Republicans are proposing. It's also at least $150 billion more than current infrastructure spending levels. Obama is aiming high, even though he knows he'll probably get much less. Infrastructure means jobs, and "jobs" are the name of the game for his reelection.
It's an added bonus that infrastructure has been in the news, which gives politicians of all stripes the opportunity to exploit it for reelection purposes. Both the House and the Senate are attempting (and so far not succeeding) to pass surface transportation bills. Obama ideally wants to increase federal infrastructure investment, but he has also praised the Senate for its more modest bill that simply maintains the current spending levels over two years. Leaders say it could take a few weeks to get that measure completed.
Just in case it wasn't clear which side of the U.S. Capitol the president favors, the White House issued a veto threat against the House GOP proposal last week. That was before House leaders announced that they would have to put off a vote on their five-year highway bill until after the President's Day break. There are questions among the Republican rank-and-file about spending: Is it too much? Too little? Most importantly, to which districts does the money go?
With lawmakers in a tangle, why shouldn't Obama propose what he really wants for transportation, even if it's a pipe dream? Does the White House infrastructure budget proposal give any hope to the transportation community that they might soon get some certainty on funding? Will it make a difference to the average American in deciding how to vote? Does infrastructure make a good campaign topic? Or is the recent infrastructure furor really just an inflated version of the same transportation conversations that have always taken place among same policymakers and lobbyists?