Michael Swartz / April 24, 2020

Is Infrastructure the Answer?

Trump wants $2 trillion for it, but given our other commitments, now’s not the time.

With unemployment skyrocketing, interest rates near all-time lows, and a growing backlog of needs, President Donald Trump recently called for a massive $2 trillion federal infrastructure program. “It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country!” he tweeted. That met with a mixed reaction from congressional leaders, who were understandably gun-shy about making such a commitment for another phase of coronavirus relief.

On the gung-ho side was Sen. John Barasso (R-WY), who claimed a bipartisan $287 billion highway bill was “ready to go,” adding, “fixing America’s roads and bridges is a great way to create jobs and support businesses.” Democrats, however, prefer a different direction, placing their focus more on healthcare, hospitals, and the digital economy. The latter point was also the subject of an op-ed in The Hill, where coauthors Bradley Blakeman and Christos Makridis asked, “Why not invest in infrastructure that brings greater connectivity between rural and urban communities?”

All this reminds us of the last time Congress floated an infrastructure “stimulus.” Remember all those “shovel ready” jobs that became an excuse for the Obama administration to shovel money to various Democrat constituencies, special interests, and dubious “green” donors like Solyndra?

Brian Riedl at National Review hasn’t forgotten. He also adds important perspective, writing, “Advocates assert that massive infrastructure spending will stimulate economic growth and create jobs. Economists across the political spectrum have debunked this myth for the obvious reason that infrastructure projects require several years of planning and regulatory reviews before they begin — at which point the economy has already recovered.”

Even as President Trump has worked tirelessly to reduce red tape, regulatory roadblocks would await him. Consider the endurance contest of getting the much-needed Keystone oil pipeline built and operational.

There’s also the question of just how much more debt our nation can take on. Already this year, we’ve spent nearly $3 trillion that we didn’t have. With more than 26 million jobs lost in recent weeks, state budgets from California to Delaware are feeling the crunch. Any infrastructure spending undertaken by the states will likely need a hefty federal match, leaving every taxpayer with the bill.

There are better ways to create jobs than trying to prime a federal spending pump that’s already running dry. Instead of letting government pick winners while politicians attend ribbon-cuttings and ground-breaking ceremonies, how about allowing the private sector to decide what’s most important?

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