Finally Some Common Sense, but Will it be Politics as Usual?

President Obama’s call on Congress to upgrade the nation’s roads, rail lines and runways as a way to jump start the economy is meeting with the usual mindless opposition from Republican leaders.

As part of a six-year package, President Obama is asking for $50 billion immediately to create desperately needed jobs.

According to the New York Times, the proposal includes funds to “rebuild 150,000 miles of road, lay and maintain 4,000 miles of rail track, restore 150 miles of runways and advance a next-generation air-traffic control system.”

The package would be funded by an “infrastructure bank,” which would be run by the government but would pool tax dollars with private investment.

Predictably, the Republican National Committee dismissed the plan as “stimulus déjà vu,” and Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican whip, scoffed that it is “yet another government stimulus effort.”

Of course, the president is right and the Republicans are wrong.

Sure, implementing the Obama proposal would mean borrowing tens of billions of dollars at a time when the nation is deep in debt. But there’s no responsible alternative. And by inviting the private sector to participate, Congress would lighten the burden on taxpayers.

The nation’s roads, rail lines and runways are in utter disrepair. They are not only a handicap to development but in many cases they represent a safety hazard.

And with unemployment so high – and the economy hobbled because of it – I doubt any sensible American would argue that the government should sit on its hands and let the country keep sliding into a vicious cycle of joblessness and recession.

The choice facing Congress is clear: It’s the devil of more deficit spending  or the deep blue sea of economic collapse.

And if there’s one thing we can all agree on it’s that our taxes should be spent on useful things like roads and bridges.

Trouble is this is what Congress should have done last year instead of frittering away so much of that $787 billion stimulus package on scatter-shot initiatives ranging from payroll tax breaks to weatherstripping and “smart” electricity meters.

Congress seemed intent on just dumping money into the economy without thinking of the return on their investment.

As The Times reports, Congress has been unable to single out strategic priorities for growth. “Instead, it traditionally builds broad support by giving a little something to everybody — Montana, for instance, would get a small amount of Amtrak money in return for its support for improvements along the Northeast corridor.”

In other words, everybody has to get a little slice of bacon.

But this is no time for politics as usual. The economy is in the red zone.

Lawmakers must set aside bickering and pork-barreling, and support immediate passage of the president’s plan.

Voters are watching and we will remember in November who tried to help us and who chose instead to use our plight as political fodder.