House Dems detail $825 billion stimulus
House Democrats on Thursday released their version of an economic rescue plan with a total price tag of $825 billion — $550 billion for government spending on infrastructure and training to create and save 3 million to 4 million jobs, aid to state governments, and $275 billion for tax cuts.
The spending piece includes $30 billion for highway construction projects and $10 billion for transit and passenger rail — $20 billion less than recently proposed by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., for transportation projects.
The Army Corps of Engineers would get $4.5 billion under the bill for flood control and navigation infrastructure, according to a text of the bill published by the Appropriations Committee. It is not clear how much would specifically go to help inland waterways or harbors used to transport freight versus levees, shore replenishment and other missions.
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Another $200 million would be spent for a new grant program to electrify the transportation sector, including truck stops hookups to reduce engine idling, shoreside electrification to run equipment on commercial ships at berth, and replacement of diesel engines in airport ground support equipment and cargo handling equipment.
The bill mentioned that the American Association of Port Authorities has identified more than 18 port authorities with 'cold ironing' projects for shoreside power that could be implemented with the money.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection would receive $100 million to upgrade and replace 20 pieces of older non-intrusive inspection equipment used to scan cargo containers that no longer work properly or meet current performance standards. The bill also provides $150 million to modernize 10 land ports of entry. CBP has stated it eventually needs $5 billion to properly upgrade all such facilities to accommodate growth in cross-border traffic and new security demands. An industry coalition, the Border Trade Alliance, is seeking twice as much funding as offered in the bill.
The House plan also sets aside $3 billion for airport improvement projects.
Oberstar's plan also called for $30 billion for the federal aid for highway program, but included an additional $2.5 billion for aviation, $100 million for short-line freight railroads, and $7 billion for the Army Corps among other freight-related items.
The recovery bill explains that spending on infrastructure projects now makes sense because they are a platform for future growth, states are scaling back investments because of large budget shortfalls and construction workers have the highest unemployment rate of any industry.
Critics have said that infrastructure projects take too long to get money into the economy because of their development lag times, but the bill targets ready-to-go projects that have been planned, permitted and designed. State and local governments, in many cases, are given use-it-or lose-it deadlines to commit to projects or else lose the money to other states that are ready to begin construction. The bill's guidelines also favor projects that can start within 120 days and waive matching requirements for states and local governments. And, disbursement will kick in over two years, which will provide an ongoing boost through what is expected to be a sustained downturn that can't be shed in a single burst of activity, lawmakers said.
The bill includes numerous provisions to create a transparent process for taxpayers to evaluate how government officials spend the money. Under the plan:
' Many funds will be distributed through existing formulas to states and cities through programs with strong financial oversight in place.
' All contract announcements, grant competitions and awards must be posted on a special executive branch Web site.
' Program managers will be listed so the public knows who to hold accountable.
' Public notification of funding will include details about the project and its merits.
' Governors and mayors must certify that an investment has been carefully reviewed and meets criteria for public benefit.
' A seven-member oversight board consisting of inspectors general and deputy cabinet secretaries will monitor use of the money in the stimulus plan.
' Whistleblower protections for those who report fraud and abuse.
' No earmarks.
President-elect Obama has insisted that congressional pet projects not be inserted in the bill, but acknowledged in an interview aired Sunday on ABC that it will be difficult to strictly enforce such a goal when a bill of this size is being rolled out so quickly.
To read the economic stimulus bill, or a summary, go to Appropriations Committee Web site at appropriations.house.gov. ' Eric Kulisch