DeLauro Pushes Alternative to ‘Disappointing’ White House I-Fund

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) today continued her push for a National Infrastructure Bank (NIB), lamenting the Obama administration’s choice to pursue a $4 billion fund housed within the U.S. DOT rather than an independent entity focused on water, electricity, and other broader needs.

2492878196_bfbf0bf69d.jpgRep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) (Photo: America 2050 via Flickr)

"If it’s true that civilizations are measured by the quality of their roads, then we soon face a reckoning," DeLauro said in an address to the Center for National Policy, adding that Americans "do not build … we only consume."

The longtime ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is leading a bicameral effort to create an NIB that would be capitalized with government money but steered by an independent board of directors, in a concerted attempt to de-politicize debates about whether to invest in individual projects.

The White House version of the NIB, christened the "I-Fund," would adopt a different strategy to capitalizing new projects, focusing a small amount of taxpayer money on transport-specific projects run through existing channels at the U.S. DOT.

Calling the administration’s approach "very disappointing," DeLauro depicted her NIB plan as a bid to break through what are often called the "stovepipes" of the federal bureaucracy — the separation of transportation, energy, and land-use decisions into agencies that often fail to communicate effectively.

Members of Congress "are good at compartmentalizing … sometimes to the detriment" of large-scale infrastructure projects, DeLauro said, bemoaning the frequency with which innovative proposals are "channeled through federal programs" that focus more on a specific congressional district’s concerns than on broader, national needs.

But DeLauro was less than sanguine about the possibility of creating any form of NIB this year, given the constraints of a legislative calendar that will find most lawmakers in re-election campaign mode by August. The financial crisis, she observed, "has taken an enormous toll" on public appetites for big-picture reform. "It has scared people [away] from talking more broadly about [unmet U.S. infrastructure needs]."

She also acknowledged that worries about the mounting federal deficit could hamstring her NIB legislation: "We have a jobs deficit and a budget deficit. How do we square that?"

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