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Friday, August 03, 2007

No Money for Bridges, but Millions for Ballparks

It was typical of George W. Bush -- opportunistic, thoughtless, divisive, and highly politicized. In comments about the bridge collapse in Minnesota, Bush was quick to blame Democrats for the tragedy and use the opportunity to call for tax cuts. Seriously.

If you don't know that this happened, you can thank the media, who have covered only half the story. Here's how the New York Times reported it:

President Bush, in a news conference today, expressed condolences for the victims and said "the federal government must respond and respond robustly to help the people there not only recover, but to make sure that lifeline of activity, that bridge, gets rebuilt as quickly as possible." The White House later announced that Mr. Bush would travel to Minneapolis on Saturday.

If you're guessing that he said a lot more than that, you're right. But you have to go to the White House website to find it. We get all the stuff you'd expect; the assurances that the federal government will 'respond robustly' and the calls for prayer that cover the White House website like wallpaper. Then comes this:

This doesn't have to be this way. The Democrats won last year's election fair and square, and now they control the calendar for bringing up bills in Congress. They need to pass each of these spending bills individually, on time, and in a fiscally responsible way.

The budget I've sent to Congress fully funds America's priorities. It increases discretionary spending by 6.9 percent. My Cabinet Secretaries assure me that this is adequate to meet the needs of our nation.

Unfortunately, Democratic leaders in Congress want to spend far more. Their budget calls for nearly $22 billion more in discretionary spending next year alone. These leaders have tried to downplay that figure. Yesterday one called this increase -- and I quote -- "a very small difference" from what I proposed. Only in Washington can $22 billion be called a very small difference. And that difference will keep getting bigger. Over the next five years it will total nearly $205 billion in additional discretionary spending. That $205 billion averages out to about $112 million per day, $4.7 million per hour, $78,000 per minute.

In fact, in a press release of ten paragraphs (including the closing, "Thank you for your time"), only three are about the damned bridge -- the rest is Bush scolding dems for wanting to 'raise taxes.' If you were relying solely on the mainstream media, you'd never know this.

Remember, at this point there are still people in the water and Bush is taking the time to explain why cutting taxes is so important. Geez, give it a break for just five seconds, OK? The guy learned absolutely nothing from Katrina. I'm surprised he didn't find some way to use the collapse as a way to demonstrate why we have to stay in Iraq forever or to launch a Global War on Gravity.

The collapse should be a wake up call, but the president's busy hitting the snooze button. Nick Coleman writes in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "There isn't any bigger metaphor for a society in trouble than a bridge falling, its concrete lanes pointing brokenly at the sky, its crumpled cars pointing down at the deep waters where people disappeared." The country has deep infrastructure problems, stuff is blowing up, sinking into sink holes, and falling down around our ears.

"We have all over the country crumbling infrastructure -- highways, bridges, dams -- and we really need to take a hard look at this," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in response to the bridge failure.

Way back in 2005, MSNBC reported:

Crowded schools, traffic-choked roads and transit cutbacks are eroding the quality of American life, according to an analysis by civil engineers that gave the nation's infrastructure an overall grade of D.

A report by the American Society of Civil Engineers released Wednesday assessed the four-year trend in the condition of 12 categories of infrastructure.

And that trend is downward. "The overall grade slipped from the D+ given in 2001 and 2003," the report tells us. Breaking down our infrastructure by category, "The highest grade? A C+ for solid waste. The lowest? D- for drinking water, navigable waterways and wastewater." An F means pretty much nonexistent.

Here's a fun fact: tax cuts are not the way to fix our crumbling infrastructure. In fact, misplaced priorities are a big part of what got us into this mess in the first place. In response to the bridge collapse, the Minnesota Twins postponed its groundbreaking for a new stadium -- being built with public dollars. According to Minnesota Public Radio, "...Twins owner Carl Pohlad will pay $130 million towards the stadium. But the plan also requires a Hennepin County sales tax of .15 percent. The tax finances the remaining three quarters of the ballpark's $522 million cost."

You can raise hundreds of millions to pay for ballparks, but bridges are a luxury. To go back to Nick Coleman's piece, "For half a dozen years, the motto of state government and particularly that of Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been No New Taxes. It's been popular with a lot of voters and it has mostly prevailed. So much so that Pawlenty vetoed a 5-cent gas tax increase - the first in 20 years - last spring and millions were lost that might have gone to road repair. And yes, it would have fallen even if the gas tax had gone through, because we are years behind a dangerous curve when it comes to the replacement of infrastructure that everyone but wingnuts in coonskin caps agree is one of the basic duties of government."

Maybe it's that infrastructure is so unsexy. It's about bolts and rust and snarled traffic as backhoes dig around in the street. It's about bridges and roads and sewers. Ballparks are fun, powerlines are dull.

But the fact is that these dull things are the things our entire society relies on. And, if we keep up with this idiotic idea that tax cuts are always good, we're going to watch it all crumble around us. You've got to pay for this stuff and, at both the states and federal levels, we're not. You can't run a nation the size of the US on the cheap. It's like everything else in the world, you get what you pay for. And if you pay jack, you get jack.

For Bush to use this as an opportunity to browbeat Democrats over tax cuts is as stupid as it is offensive. If you love America, then you pay for America.

And tax cuts don't pay for anything.


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