The words are “big” and “bold.” At a White House meeting last week the president and congressional leaders reached a deal to fund $2 trillion worth of infrastructure. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described it as a “big and bold initiative.”
But will the agreement actually result in dollars for building projects in Indian Country?
This is Trahant Reports.
Congressional leaders met at the White House talking about the huge infrastructure backlog in the United States, roads that need repair, water systems, hospitals, schools, and, well, there is a long list. In Indian Country the tally exceeds $50 billion.
The White House said they will come up with a spending plan and a way to pay for it.
Two years ago the National Congress of American Indians reported that Indian Country has its own infrastructure backlog. A report said: “Crumbling roads. Deteriorating water and sewer systems. Unsafe bridges that remain in use long past their expiration dates. Antiquated, under‐resourced public transit systems that fail to keep up with the needs of our growing population. And the list goes on.”
The reported cited a figure from 2009 reporting $50 billion in the unmet need. “The number of ‘shovel ready’ infrastructure projects in Indian Country remains too many to count,” the report said, “and many of those have been that way for years if not decades. This chronic underinvestment and the growing backlog of critical infrastructure projects not only negatively impacts the social, physical, and mental wellbeing of tribal and neighboring communities, it hampers the ability of Tribal Nations to fully leverage their economic potential and the ability of their citizens to fully participate in the American economy.”
Adie Tomer, a fellow with the Brookings, Metropolitan Policy Program, in Washington, D.C., said there remain significant obstacles that must be resolved before there is an actual deal to spend money on federal infrastructure. He said the two trillion dollars is a “really, really big figure.” It dwarfs the amount spent on infrastructure spending now. He said to put that number into context it would require new spending that has not been seen since the New Deal in the 1930s.
The size of that ask is so huge that it immediately raises the question about how will Congress fund such a large investment? And, if that’s not enough, how will Congress resolve at the same time deep disputes about trade policy or federal spending in general?
Congress is already facing a number of difficult deadlines ranging from the next budget, to lifting the required spending caps, to increasing the amount of money the federal government is authorized to borrow.
And there is a lot of opposition, mostly from Republicans, for this kind of spending plan. So it’s likely that gridlock, not infrastructure spending, is the outcome ahead. As, Adie Tomer and Laura Fishbane wrote for Brookings: “Unnecessary gridlock eventually drags us all down.”
I am Mark Trahant.