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Democrats Run Away from President’s Economic Plans

In his press conference and throughout the week, the President has set the table and offered distinctions with Republicans on a number of key issues, including those broadly popular with both the base of the Democratic party and in the country. You can hone in on two of these: the infrastructure bill and letting tax cuts for millionaires expire. While the infrastructure bill is just a front-loaded, re-tooled extension of the federal highway bill, it’s a pretty good one. Jon Cohn explains the inner workings of a National Infrastructure Bank, which would smooth out the haphazard way we do infrastructure funding right now. The bank would make large, direct loans both to public and private interests, without a profit-maximization strategy, to get these projects done. Similar enterprises in Europe have been highly successful. Regional importance would take precedence over earmarking. The Nation calls it good policy and good politics. And given the poll numbers, letting taxes on millionaires expire has the same dynamic.

However, rather than follow the President on this, and draw a contrast with the other party, a substantial number of skittish Democrats would rather run screaming in the other direction.

Colorado suddenly has become the biggest trouble spot for the White House plan to spend $50 billion to build up the country’s aging infrastructure and create jobs as the economy flags.

Reps. Betsy Markey and John Salazar, both Democrats, came out against the idea Thursday, the day after Sen. Michael Bennet became the first — and thus far only — Democratic senator to oppose the plan.

Others among a handful of congressional defectors included Reps. Mark Critz, D-Pa., and Gary Peters D-Mich., but Colorado appeared to present by far the largest obstacle to the plan, which President Barack Obama is likely to highlight in a series of barnstorming events this fall.

What’s hilarious is that their objections aren’t even informed. “Investments in infrastructure are critical to our long-term economic recovery but should be paid for with unspent funds from the Economic Recovery Act without adding to the federal deficit,” said Betsy Markey. But the infrastructure proposal that Obama made would be paid for, only front-loaded to give a stimulative impact in the first year, and paid for in later years. I don’t think these members of Congress don’t understand the concept of front-loading: they think they can only win as Democrats by acting like Republicans. And they’ll reject popular policies as a means to getting there.

Never mind the fact that the OECD says that economies around the world need more stimulus to avoid a slowdown. It’s election season, and sensibility be damned.

This is especially galling because the White House is primarily concerned with giving their party a way to contrast these policies with that of Republicans. And yet, they don’t want to do that.

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David Dayen

David Dayen