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Building National Capacity –The Power To Do – Or Not

Building National Capacity. What. Does. That. Mean? Boiled down, it is the power to do in order to sustain and protect.

We are in a crisis of needing to build our national capacity through economic stimulus. It is time to build our “power to do” to protect our democracy. Frank Luntz, a pollster, recently had an interesting opinion piece in the LA Times which addressed the stimulus bill, or more importantly, the most important part of the stimulus bill, infrastructure spending.

Building America’s Future, a bipartisan coalition of elected officials which is chaired by Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, formed to support infrastructure investment, hired Luntz to do some opinion polls on the economy. Luntz, a Republican pollster, found something out and is supporting the need of passage of President Obama’s stimulus package because:

“A near unanimous 94% of Americans are concerned about our nation’s infrastructure. And this concern cuts across all regions of the country and across urban, suburban and rural communities.
Fully 84% of the public wants more money spent by the federal government — and 83% wants more spent by state governments — to improve America’s infrastructure. And here’s the kicker: 81% of Americans are personally prepared to pay 1% more in taxes for the cause. It’s not uncommon for people to say they’d pay more to get more, but when you ask them to respond to a specific amount, support evaporates. (That 74% of normally stingy Republicans are on board for the tax increase is, to me, the most significant finding in the survey.)”

So, the general public, including Republican voters, get the import of infrastructure spending and yet, current House and Senate Republicans are voting to cut infrastructure spending as opposed to increasing it and some even oppose infrastructure spending dramatically. Thus, I am confused about how Republicans view supporting and sustaining our US democracy? (No, that is not a typo. I meant democracy, not economy.) Here is where my confusion kicks in…

In March of 2006, the USAID produced a transition strategy plan (2006-2008) which explains former President Bush’ National Strategy For Victory in Iraq. This report, supported by the former President and his party, was committed to building sustainable development capacity at the national and local levels…In Iraq…With our tax dollars.

As one reads the “plan,” the foremost “cross cutting and converging theme” noted in the plan as necessary in building a democracy was infrastructure development. Infrastructure aids in “security, sustainability, responsiveness” and is foundational to “building a national capacity.” In fact the study states:

“…The economic track will help the Iraqi government set the foundation for a sound and self-sustaining economy with the capacity to deliver essential services. The national strategy calls for restoring essential infrastructure, reforming Iraq’s economy so that it can be self-sustaining in the future, and building the capacity of Iraqi institutions to rejoin the international economic community and improve the general welfare of all Iraqis..” (My bold.)

Senator McCain, running for the office of the President of the United States in 2008, even ran on a foreign policy stance of supporting infrastructure development in Iraq as part of the “strategy” towards a secure democracy in Iraq, not a “tactic”.

GOP members of the House and Senate have set their priority in stimulus policy for the United States’ democracy building and sustainability, as 40 percent in tax cuts. Infrastructure spending has been argued as less effective, despite studies that show a greater dollar return on infrastructure spending versus tax cuts.

However, there is an exception of a few GOP voices known as “infrastructure Republicans”. Rep. John L. Mica, a congressman, is one of Capitol Hill’s most ardent proponents of spending big bucks on high-speed rail projects.

Mica has been traveling along the Northeast Corridor, pushing a plan to promote high-speed rail technology that could cut the time of travel from Washington to New York to less than two hours.

The huge project would require an investment of billions of dollars on such things as replacing the ancient Amtrak tunnels through Baltimore – a significant drag on travel times along the East Coast.
Mica thinks his dream project will be a comfortable fit with Barack Obama’s plans for stimulating the economy.
But Mica is a self-described "hard-core Republican" – just re-elected to his ninth term from a Florida district that includes St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. As the ranking minority member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, he’s part of a significant faction within the congressional GOP that could be described as "infrastructure Republicans."

In light of Mica and “infrastructure Republicans,” it was no mistake that Vice President Biden gave a “support the stimulus bill” speech from a train station yesterday. The speech was code for “infrastructure Republicans.”
The code was pointing infrastructure Republicans toward “finding their voice and their vote on infrastructure and speaking in support of infrastructure spending.”

Biden delivered a secondary code in his “support the stimulus bill” due to his Senate experience in foreign relations.

According to the CIBC World Markets forecasts:

* North America will spend $180 billion on infrastructure each year.
* Europe will spend $205 billion.
* Asia will spend $400 billion.
* And $10 billion will be invested in Africa annually.

Biden’s speech is an echo of our nation’s governors.

"China, Japan, India, Dubai, Malaysia, Europe, all of them are investing in modern infrastructure at higher rates that we are here in the United States," the mayor said. "But Congress is setting back and resting on its accomplishments of past generations, our parents’ generation. And they can only go on this way for so long before the rest of the world starts to pass us by. And we are here to say we cannot let that happen. We cannot hand our children a country that is crumbling from neglect."


"America needs $1.6 trillion worth of infrastructure over the next five years, yet federal investment has been cut in half as a percent of gross domestic product since 1987," said Governor Schwarzenegger.”


“The United States will spend $150 billion annually over the next 10 years and Europe will look to invest about $300 billion a year, according the CIBC report.”

Biden is making it clear that the costs infrastructure investment have to be weighed against national danger in falling behind in areas of technology that 21st-century competitors, such as China, Europe and Russia are pursuing aggressively.

Additionally, President Obama made the reality of stimulus and infrastructure spending very clear to the GOP when he stated:

“…Then you get the argument well this is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill. What do you think a stimulus is? That’s the whole point.
No seriously. That’s the point…”

Infrastructure spending is stimulus. That’s the point.

Let’s review:

The GOP arguments for spending less for the sustainability of democracy in the United States do not parallel their arguments for spending more for sustainability of democracy in Iraq.

The GOP are not paying attention to the fact that voters understand the impact and import of infrastructure spending. It creates jobs. Jobs generate taxes. Taxes build communities.

The GOP are willing to spend our tax dollars on infrastructure building in Iraq but not on the home front.

The GOP is not paying attention to the need of keeping the US competitive in terms of modern infrastructure, as other countries are outspending the US annually. The lack of competitiveness is a security threat.

Former President Bush and the GOP had it right for Iraq when their “strategy plan” stated infrastructure spending is a “cross cutting and converging theme” in democracy building. Infrastructure spending creates the stimulus for a national capacity of secure democracy, even domestically. When will the GOP get it “right” for us, the citizens of the United States?

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