Obama gets Reagan wrong on infrastructure

Associated Press Published: April 30, 2012
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President Obama once again quoted "that great socialist," Ronald Reagan, to call for more infrastructure spending, but he failed to recall the Reagan was the first president to veto a transportation bill in the 20th century.

"Ronald Reagan once said that rebuilding our infrastructure is 'common sense' -- 'an investment in tomorrow that we need to make today,'" Obama told the ALF-CIO today. "Ronald Reagan said that, that great socialist -- Ronald Reagan," he joked.

Would Reagan have supported Obama's transportation spending? He vetoed the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987, "citing a variety of problems, including funding levels that exceeded his request by $10 billion," the Department of Transportation recalls.

The veto was also an attempt to thwart the pork barrel spending now common in transportation bills. "I haven't seen this much lard since I handed out blue ribbons at the Iowa State Fair," Reagan said.

Reagan did suggest -- in 1982 -- that infrastructure spending could "stimulate" the economy. But he was clear that this didn't just apply to any old make-work project, as many "shovel-ready" stimulus projects and Obama's entire green energy policy has proven to be. Reagan spoke of the transportation bill he signed in 1982, saying: "The program will also stimulate 170,000 jobs, not in make-work projects but in real, worthwhile work in the hard-hit construction industries, and an additional 150,000 jobs in related industries."

By 1987, Reagan made clear that not all infrastructure bills are good for their own sake, and they aren't all created equal.

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