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 for the next fiscal year. The White House wants $476 billion for a six-year surface transportation mechanism, which is about $200 billion more than House Republicans are proposing. It’s also at least $150 billion more than current infrastructure spending levels. The Senate is desperately trying to simply maintain the current levels in a two-year, $109 billion bill.
Infrastructure means jobs to the administration, which is why it is aggressively promoting a robust investment in roads, bridges, runways, and railways. It’s a blatant election ploy that is not limited to Democrats. House Republicans are making a big deal of their infrastructure plan, which pays for the highway construction with new domestic oil drilling. The political jobs message is a one-two punch for Republicans. “Punch One” is the job-creating infrastructure bill that Obama has been seeking since he took office. “Punch Two” is a plug for drilling, a conservative selling point.
Obama's budget request is similar to last year’s request, when the administration proposed $556 billion for a six-year highway mechanism. Just like last year, the administration did not offer up any ideas about how its infrastructure proposal should be paid for. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said then that such pay-fors are Congress’s milieu. Now, the White House is proposing to use about $200 billion from a “peace dividend” derived from the reduction of troops deployed overseas. The rest would come from the current highway trust fund, which is paid for through a federal 18.4 cent-per-gallon gas tax.
The White House is also reviving its call for $50 billion in immediate, shovel-ready infrastructure projects, an idea that has seen little interest on Capitol Hill. And just to prove that Obama has little interest in catering to Republicans who aren’t keen on long-term rail spending, his budget calls for $2.7 billion in 2013 and $47 billion over six years to develop passenger high-speed rail.
Most of the spending proposed by the administration is outside of the traditional Transportation Department budget. Obama is requesting a relatively modest increase for DOT -- 2 percent, or $1.4 billion, above the 2012 level.