When it Comes to Highways, Will McCain Be the Next Eisenhower? - Washington Insider
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When it Comes to Highways, Will McCain Be the Next Eisenhower?

By Christian Klein

Article Date: 08-01-2008
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Infrastructure foe could turn friend with straight-talking style.

If I wasn’t an optimist, I couldn’t do this job. I come to work every morning believing that AED’s members and I can make a difference in how policymakers think about the issues that affect our industry and that together we can build a stronger economy and a better America. Sure, things happen occasionally that take the wind out of my sails, but not infrequently my optimism is rewarded in a big way (AED’s success in making the home purchase tax credit a major issue this year is a great example).Maybe it’s that tireless optimism, but I think John McCain has the potential to be the next Dwight Eisenhower when it comes to infrastructure issues and that he may be just what we need to put the federal highway program back on solid footing. Sound crazy? Here’s my logic:It’s no secret that up until now McCain has been no friend of infrastructure. Over the years he has cast multiple votes against highway bills that have enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support on both sides of Capitol Hill. Then, earlier this year, he proposed suspending the gas tax. It was a terrible idea and most people saw it for what it was: election year pandering. McCain’s three-month “gas tax holiday” would cost the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) close to $10 billion, jeopardize tens of thousands of construction jobs nationwide, undermine public support for the highway user fee, cause fuel supply and demand distortions, and probably have no impact on prices. All that to give the average driver a $40 tax break!So even though all evidence points to contrary, why do I think McCain might be the guy to save the road program?First, if he’s elected, he’ll have no choice but to deal with transportation issues. America’s infrastructure needs are staggering (the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has predicted a $1 trillion, 10-year transportation investment gap), congestion is undermining the nation’s economic competitiveness (it’s costing us $78 billion per year), and the HTF is bankrupt (just continuing federal spending at current levels will plunge the HTF tens of billions of dollars into the red over the next decade). All these factors will come to a head next year when Congress reauthorizes the federal highway program; so whether it’s McCain or Obama, the next president won’t be able to duck the debate.The second reason is that for the better part of a decade AED and our construction industry allies have called on Congress to increase the gas tax, saying that it’s the fairest and most fiscally responsible way to pay for more highway investment. One of the strategic barriers we’ve faced is that the public doesn’t trust the federal government to spend money wisely and perceives the highway program to be a pork-laden boondoggle. (It isn’t, but stories about “bridges to nowhere” haven’t done us any favors.)Enter John McCain. Over his career, he’s developed a reputation as a “straight-talking” deficit hawk and opponent of wasteful spending. If he seizes the opportunity, McCain will be uniquely positioned to “trim the fat” from the highway program, “add muscle” (in the form of new resources), address a compelling national need, and position America to be competitive on the global stage in the next century. Eisenhower, another military hero turned Republican presidential candidate, was the motivating force behind the creation of the interstate highway system in the 1950s. He set in motion the most ambitious infrastructure program in world history. If he plays his cards right, McCain could take Eisenhower’s legacy, build on it, and make it his own. They said only Nixon could go to China. I say McCain might be the savior of the federal highway program. How’s that for optimistic?
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Article Categories:  Management  »  Public Policy