Transportation Spending, and Bernanke’s Warning
Americans have been begging Congress to cut spending. They elected conservatives en masse in 2010 to do just this. Conservatives began the fight immediately, in order to get as much spending cut as they possibly could against a President whose sole platform appeared to be nothing but making government bigger and increasing its role in our day-to-day-lives. Fortunately, the narrative has changed from “how much can we spend” to “how much can we cut?”
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told a congressional panel today that reducing the deficit “should be a top priority,” and that continuing spending at the current levels is “clearly unsustainable.” That’s right, the Chairman of the federal bank says we need to cut spending. Unfortunately, both the House and Senate transportation bills go in the opposite direction.
Instead of using program reforms and streamlining to justify spending cuts, the current version of the bills keep spending at the excessive levels passed the last time this was authorized, in 2005. Government spending is driving our nation off a cliff, and suggesting we continue this rampant excess at current levels is, as Chairman Bernanke alluded, dangerous and ill-advised.
The bills do contain some reforms, which are necessary and a welcome first step. The bills do not contain wasteful earmarks, which is a plus (remember the Bridge to Nowhere?). The House bill makes some substantial reforms that increase state flexibility and the Senate bill also allows states to allot enhancement program money towards road repair instead of fluff expenditures like beautification. However, simply peppering these reforms in without using the resulting efficiency to reduce spending defeats the purpose of these reforms.
Simply put, the current transportation bills will lead to more bailouts of the Highway Trust Fund. It’s time for our government to live within its means, stop the bailouts, and truly allow states to spend their transportation dollars on projects that benefit their population, not the heavy hand of government.