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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Posts Tagged ‘public works’

GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

5938796728_63d4816b74Two-Week Tantrum Epitomizes GOP’s Recovery-Strangling Refusal to Share in Work of Governing

And so, after 16 days, after a $24 billion loss to the economy, and just hours before the United States was about to pass through its federal debt limit, with potentially catastrophic global consequences, the Senate (81–18) and House (285–144) have approved a budget deal that could have been voted on weeks ago—months ago, really. The bill will keep the federal government operating through Jan. 15, 2014, and extends the debt ceiling only until Feb. 7. None of the GOP’s demands were met.

In effect, 162 of 278 Republican members of Congress—that’s 58 percent—voted for the United States to default on its debt for the first time in the nation’s history.

If You Vote Republican, Don’t Expect Functional Government

GOP representatives did, however, sing all three verses of “Amazing Grace” in a caucus meeting on Tuesday before voting, again, not to reopen the government.

We have observed often before that Republicans nowadays do not seek office in order to govern, as Democrats and independents understand the term, but rather to hold power—power to dismantle government. Republicans in the generations of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon had different governing philosophies from their Democratic brethren, but at least they all agreed that the point of holding public office was to serve what they regarded as the public good (which, for both parties, usually included portions of private and corporate good, too). President Eisenhower, for example, pushed Congress relentlessly to pass the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 that authorized what is today a 47,000-mile system of interstate highways throughout the United States, widely regarded as the single greatest public works project in the nation’s history. President Nixon, though he is remembered for darker accomplishments, oversaw the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupation Safety and Health Administration, and his progressive legislation included the earned income tax credit, Equal Employment Opportunity Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Today’s Republican party, such as it is, is motivated by no such constructive purpose. Having purged moderates and what the true believers call RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) from their ranks, and now living in fear of primary challenges from fervent, purer-than-thou Tea Party radicals, surviving GOP officeholders seem able only to obstruct and stall the normal operations of government on the federal level—while being paid $177,000 per year. At the state level, however, the GOP has shown great energy and ingenuity in rolling back hard-won voting rights, women’s access to reproductive choice and birth control, cutting further the taxes of the rich and striking down taxation and regulation of industry, and helping the spread of guns in bars, restaurants, schools, playgrounds, churches, etc.

9880045165_92902a4cd9Senate Republicans have used the filibuster against President Obama’s proposed legislation and nominees with a frequency never seen before in American history. Robert Draper, author of Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives (2012), has written about a once-secret meeting the night of Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 in which Republican leaders gathered to plot an all-out obstruction of all of the new president’s initiatives. This while the nation and the world were plunging down an economic abyss brought on largely by Republican laissez-faire economic policies and “fiscal stewardship” of tax-cutting and massive privatization. (If the GOP had had its way, the Social Security system would have been privatized . . . before the 2008 financial meltdown.)

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Shutdown, with No Exit Strategy, Shows GOP’s Governing Style

And so, just as the Republicans were helping drown the U.S. economic recovery in every way imaginable, giving not a single vote to the new president’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus) of 2009, and blocking from even coming to the floor for a vote the American Jobs Act that Obama first proposed in a speech to a joint session of Congress two years ago, so their most recent, 16-day, shutdown of the federal government contained in concentrated form all the destructiveness of their regressive, anti-democratic, and truly job-killing (in)activity of the past several years.

We have also written at times about Democrats’ weaknesses (there are many), but if Americans want functional government—from passage of legislation that benefits the public, and roads and bridges and levees in good repair, to food and drug inspections and air traffic safety, not to mention the social safety nets of Social Security and Medicare and unemployment insurance—then remember that voting for one party results in a fairly functional government, imperfect, but moving toward broader coverage of people’s rights and benefits. The other party—well, the past two weeks have shown that even when they manage to hijack a plane, they really do not know how to fly or bring it in for a landing, and, in any case, they would have already cut funding for paying the flight training school instructors, air traffic controllers, and turned out the lights on the pot-holed runway.

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What Are the Democrats Saying?

President Obama after the Shutdown’s End:

The key now is a budget that cuts out the things that we don’t need, closes corporate tax loopholes that don’t help create jobs, and frees up resources for the things that do help us grow—like education and infrastructure and research. . . . 

Let’s work together to make government work better, instead of treating it like an enemy or purposely making it work worse. That’s not what the founders of this nation envisioned when they gave us the gift of self-government. You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That’s not being faithful to what this country is about.

Remarks by the President on the Reopening of the Government, Oct. 17, 2013

Senator Elizabeth Warren:

I am NOT celebrating tonight. . . . the reason we were in this mess in the first place is that a reckless faction in Congress took the government and the economy hostage for no good purpose and to no productive end. According to the S&P index . . . $24 billion has been flushed down the drain for a completely unnecessary political stunt.

$24 billion dollars. How many children could have been back in Head Start classes? How many seniors could have had a hot lunch through Meals on Wheels? How many scientists could have gotten their research funded? How many bridges could have been repaired and trains upgraded?

The Republicans keep saying, “Leave the sequester in place and cut all those budgets.” They keep trying to cut funding for the things that would help us build a future. But they are ready to flush away $24 billion on a political stunt.  

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), e-mail to supporters, Oct. 16, 2013

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Top two illustrations by Chamomile Tea Party. ‘Republican Demands’ chart by The Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

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Cool Digs! NYC’s 2nd Avenue Subway Tunnel in Progress

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

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Making Tracks on the Line That Time Forgot

Talking Points Memo posts some ultra-kool photos of the excavation of the Second Avenue subway tunnel under the East Side of Manhattan that is due to open for business in December 2016—only about a century after the need for an additional East Side subway line was first recognized. (More cool photos can be seen at the MTA’s Flickr page.)

At the same time, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is working on an East Side Access megaproject to connect the Long Island Rail Road to a new passenger concourse underneath Grand Central Terminal, which will ease pressure on the LIRR’s longtime (and congested rat-maze) terminus at Penn Station. (More about Penn Station [and high-speed rail] here.) Verily, the MTA’s crews and engineers are infrastructure heroes. We salute you!

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Public Works in a Time of Job-Killing Scrooges

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

 

[ A modified version of this piece appears at New Deal 2.0, a project of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. ]

Last week we went to a panel discussion on public works and infrastructure at the Museum of the City of New York: “Roads to Nowhere: Public Works in a Time of Crisis,” part of the museum’s ongoing Urban Forum series on infrastructure in New York. The discussion focused on NYC and environs, but has implications for public works—infrastructure and transportation—around the nation, including levees and flood control projects in coastal Louisiana, this blog’s primary concern. The same pressures affecting public works funding (or slashed funding) in New York hold for the U.S. generally.

The distinguished panel—moderated by Michael M. Grynbaum, transportation reporter for The New York Times—were Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, president of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Capital Construction Company (MTACC); Joan Byron, Director, Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative at Pratt Institute; Denise M. Richardson, Managing Director, General Contractors Association of New York; and Jeffrey M. Zupan, Senior Fellow for Transportation, Regional Plan Association. The panelists’ collective expertise was most impressive, almost formidable, and quite to the liking of the near-roomful of about 150 transportation and public works geeks.

What the experts did not discuss to our satisfaction was the political dimension to the “Time of Crisis”: Why are there budget shortfalls? Which political party is doing most of the canceling of projects, and why? What wouldn’t be possible if the rich and corporations paid their fair share of taxes? And why, we keep wondering, aren’t the president or congressional Democrats pushing for anything like the WPA & CCC programs that rebuilt America and employed millions in the last big depression? More about these questions below.

Michael Grynbaum began by reading quotations from a report on how the building of the Second Avenue subway line in Manhattan was affecting local East Side businesses, parking, etc. A spokesman from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) estimated that work would be completed on the long-planned line in 10 years. Date of article: 1977. Status of project: still ongoing. Audience response: pained laughter, chagrin. If we didn’t laugh, we’d cry.

Hanging over the whole discussion, Grynbaum noted, was the shocking, job-killing decision by New Jersey governor Chris Christie in October 2010 to pull the state out of the ARC (Access to the Region’s Core) project—a new train tunnel under the Hudson River linking New Jersey and Manhattan—because, in Christie’s view, New Jersey was having to pay too much, more than originally budgeted. The cancellation outraged local officials and the public generally, and the Obama administration sought to negotiate a compromise, but Christie rejected the offers. (The two tunnels shown at left, built about 100 years ago, are N. J. Transit’s only way in and out of New York City.)

Denise Richardson said that Christie’s cancellation of this project that would have provided public benefits for at least a century to come—not to mention easier commutes and less auto traffic—would immediately cost about 6,000 direct jobs at a time when unemployment among contracting workers is already at 30%. (The blog 2nd Avenue Sagas says the cancellation means $478 million flushed down the drain for New Jersey alone.)

Grynbaum pointed out that not only Christie but other Republican governors across the United States—in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida—have been rejecting federal appropriations for high-speed rail. (Or, in Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s case, not even applying for the funding.) Many of the same job-killing GOP governors who publicly reject stimulus money as “wasteful federal spending” quietly take the money anyway and have their pictures taken handing out checks to constituents. (See “Republicans Secretly (Seriously) Like the Stimulus.”)

What can be done in a time of budget shortfalls and critical needs for repair and expansion of public transit and other infrastructure? The public can and should individually and collectively demand generous funding for these projects—through letters to the editor, letters and phone calls to elected officials, whatever it takes. We must also help educate our fellow citizens that the benefits are not for a few (such as those who don’t drive cars) but for all.

Panelists generally agreed that transportation and public works supporters must do a much better job of communicating to the public the benefits of public works and transportation and mass transportation in particular. The public does not want to have to pay any higher taxes, understandably, but often the benefits of the public works programs are not evident and the support is lacking.

Hey Obama, Congress: Where’s the WPA for Our Depression?

Michael Horodniceanu said that it is difficult to spread the view of public works as beneficial to all the public amid the pervasive anti-government rhetoric spread by conservative politicians. The tax on gasoline is too low to fund mass transit expansion, and would be voted down. He contrasted the widespread American view (and unwillingness to pay for public transportation) with the French readiness to embrace and pay for public works. He cited a field trip of a group of French students to see building of the trans–English Channel tunnel popularly known as the Chunnel, while across the Channel a group of British citizens were protesting the “eminent domain” taking of wheat fields to be used for the building of the tunnel and rail line into London. The implication was that the American attitude is more like the British than the French.

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Does Believing in Social Contract Make Us Socialists? Then So Be It.

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Learning What We’re Up Against, and How to Carry On

LoveCountryIf we’re learning anything from the messy struggles for health care reform and the passage of the stimulus bill back in February (how long ago that feels!)—and it’s far from clear whether anyone is learning anything—it could be that anyone seeking to improve the conditions of life for one’s fellow citizens is in for a real (endless) struggle. Okay, we already knew that, but now we find that if we start getting organized and gaining any traction, we’re in for a fight against not only powerful entrenched well-funded interests, but also their artificial grass-roots (“astroturf”) campaigns that stir up already nervous, agitated citizens to vent outrage against socialism in the White House and government takeovers of Medicare, among other threats to the republic.

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On Thanksgiving, Much to Be Grateful For-and Hopeful

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

On this Thanksgiving Day we are grateful for family and friends and our work that sustains us—as well as for life’s simple pleasures (like crawfish and pecan pies) and the opportunities we’re given to make the world a better place.

We are also especially thankful that the American people voted in large numbers and so enthusiastically for an excellent new president (-elect) who is already restoring hope and confidence in our people—and around the world. May God guide him with wisdom and keep him safe and in good health always. (We pray the same for all our public officials.)

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