Two key Democratic lawmakers today called for the creation of a national infrastructure bank to finance major transportation, water and electricity projects.
Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both of Connecticut, said they are currently reaching out to their fellow colleagues to rally support for the effort and are open to using the jobs bill Democrats hope to pass this year as the legislative vehicle to create the bank.
Dodd and DeLauro have both previously backed the creation of the bank as a way to tap private investment for public infrastructure projects, but their announcement today was the latest sign that the effort is gaining momentum and is likely to attract congressional attention as lawmakers focus on ways to bring down a national unemployment rate that sits at 10 percent.
Also on hand to support the effort were officials from more than a dozen transportation and infrastructure groups, including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; the American Public Transportation Association; the Center for National Policy; and Building America's Future, an advocacy organization led by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I).
Supporters of the proposal argue that federal investment in the bank will harness up to $400 billion in private-sector investment for major infrastructure projects. They say the bank -- a government entity that would operate outside of the Transportation Department and other federal agencies -- would base its funding decisions on cost-benefit analyses, removing politics from the selection process.
President Obama requested $5 billion to create the bank last year, but Congress ultimately opted against appropriating the cash until the bank is officially created.
DeLauro, a House Appropriations subcommittee chairwoman, said lawmakers will need to focus on authorizing the bank before appropriators could provide the $25 billion over five years that the president requested in last year's budget. "We're open to any idea on how we accomplish the end goal of creating this entity," DeLauro said.
Dodd said today that he regretted not being able to include the bank in last year's $787 billion stimulus package but that he believes the proposal will fare better this year. "We have renewed opportunity now coming along with the jobs bill" and the next multiyear highway legislation, he said.
The House provided nearly $50 billion for transportation, clean water projects and renewable energy loans in its version of the jobs bill, but lawmakers decided against creating the infrastructure bank as part of the legislation.
Senate Democrats are still crafting their version of the bill and have said they will make infrastructure investment a centerpiece of the effort.
Dodd, who will retire from the Senate at the end of this year, said he intends to make the creation of the bank a priority during his final months in Congress.
"This is not a subject matter that excites the passions of a country," Dodd said. "Yet, obviously, the well-being of a nation depends upon each generation's willingness to invest in the infrastructure of our nation."