Despite Vow That ‘Pork-Barrel Era Is Over,’ Obama Proposes $700 Billion Public Works Project

Tiffany Gabbay | December 8, 2008 | 8:39pm EST
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Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, holding a copy of the proposed public works plan, at U.S. Capitol, Dec. 8, 2008. (AP photo)

( - President-elect Obama, who vowed on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday to eliminate pork barrel spending in Congress, is himself proposing a massive stimulus program that would toss money to cities across the country for “public works” construction projects -- and increase the federal deficit by an estimated $2 trillion.
"You know, the days of just pork coming out of Congress as a strategy, those days are over," Obama said Sunday during the interview. Nevertheless, in light of the worsening economy and steadily increasing unemployment rate, the president-elect is proposing what he calls "the largest public works program in history" as part of a larger package -- up to $700 billion to be spent on public works projects. The intent is to inject cash into various U.S. cities for infrastructure projects and other “job creating” programs.
On Capitol Hill Monday, mayors from major metropolitan areas -- including Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic -- met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), to lobby for their "slice of the pie."
The mayors requested that the stimulus funds be directly allocated to the cities rather than to states – to reduce the “waiting time” and “red tape” associated with starting infrastructure programs such as widening roads, repairing bridges and replacing sewer systems.
"As mayors, we know that by investing in ‘Main Street’ metropolitan economies, which comprise 90 percent of our gross domestic product and drive the national economy, we have the most direct path to creating the jobs and stimulating the business that can begin to reverse the current economic downturn,” Plusquellic said. “This program would help Akron greatly."
Mark Williamson, a spokesman for the Akron mayor, told that his city wants funds for some 230 infrastructure projects ranging  in cost from $40,000 to $15 million -- and said the costs associated are a mere “drop in the bucket” when compared to the cost of the Iraq war.
Williamson said that it “would have been valuable” if even a small portion of the money that was spent rebuilding Iraq was instead spent on rebuilding neglected cities here at home.
“These are our cities,” Williamson stated. He went on to explain that Akron is only requesting the “basic” necessities such as road repairs, school construction and police – the “things that have gone neglected for too long.”
But conservative critics and economists argue that this level of government intervention will harm the economy in the long-run by adding to the already large federal deficit, leaving the financial burden to be absorbed by future generations. 
When asked how, in a severe economic downturn, the mayors have the temerity to seek financial assistance they should have sought in better funancial times, Williamson explained that his boss has “been fighting for infrastructure funds for years” -- in an effort to stave off tragedies like the 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse, in which 13 people were killed and 145 injured.
Williamson also claimed that the new projects will boost the economy by creating jobs, causing a “trickle down effect.”
In addition to what Obama referred to on “Meet the Press” as “the largest” infrastructure and public works construction project in history, other parts of the proposed economic stimulus package would be spent on creating and installing energy efficient products and school construction.
Proponents of the stimulus program, meanwhile, liken the public works project to Eisenhower’s successful National Interstate and Defense Highways Highway Act of 1956 – an act that built 41,000 miles of interstate highway over a 20 year period across the country, while the federal government incurred 90 percent of its $25 billion cost.
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