I love a good Rockefeller rant, and we were treated to one during the Senate Commerce Committee's confirmation hearing of Anthony Foxx to be the next Secretary of Transportation. Here is an excerpt:
"We cannot function as a country, and we can certainly not achieve greatness again as a country without having research, without having infrastructure, without having trained people, without having business, having confidence in our future, and thus deciding to invest in our future because they see that we in the government are willing to invest in our future, and they know it as well as we do. They don't want their taxes to skyrocket, but they know, as do a lot of people with a lot of money, that you can't wish for something or you can't minimize yourself into greatness. You can minimize yourself into just a minimal thing."
When it comes to infrastructure, no one disagrees with Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., that you can't minimize your way into a cutting edge transportation network. "I think a robust, strong infrastructure that supports that economy is critical and vital," said Rockefeller's political opposite, big-time conservative Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the committee's top Republican. Thune promised to help Foxx put together a robust surface transportation bill--since Congress only managed half of one last year--as long as the nominee does his level best to "find as many savings as you can within the department's budget."
Bipartisanship is breaking out all over on this issue. In the House, Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., introduced legislation with 12 other Democrats and 13 Republicans to create a $50 billion infrastructure fund through the sale of bonds. The fund would generate $750 billion in actual investments through loans and loan guarantees. That is, if it goes anywhere.
Foxx said he wants to explore all such ideas, without getting locked into a "one-size fits all" approach to funding infrastructure. "Cutting edge transportation leaders across the country are finding new ways to boost productivity through better use of technology, data, economic analysis, and private sector innovation," he said.
That's a welcome thought fo everyone, if Foxx can show something tangible for his efforts. But, with all due respect to John Lennon's sentiments, it is not true that all you need is love, at least when it comes to infrastructure.
With so much agreement on the need for up-to-date infrastructure, why can't policymakers figure out how to support it adequately? Do states and the private sector need to step up? Is infrastructure worth going into debt for? Is it worth paying more taxes for? How much money is there, really, to be had from streamlining inefficiencies inside the government? What would it take to go from the current D+ rating we have now to a really, really high-tech and snazzy transportation network?