Boehner Calls Obama’s Bluff on Infrastructure (But Who Will Call Boehner’s?)

Did you notice the big white beard and jolly red cheeks on President Obama at the State of the Union the other night? He’s the new Santa Claus, giving out gifts the government can’t afford to greedy little kids everywhere.

That’s how House Speaker John Boehner sees the president’s latest proposal for infrastructure investment — $40 billion for maintenance, under a strict “fix it first” ethic, with no revenue stream attached to it.

“Trying to find a funding source to repair the nation’s infrastructure is still a big goal of mine,” Boehner told reporters yesterday. “And the president talked about infrastructure, but he didn’t talk about how to pay for it. It’s easy to go out there and be Santa Claus and talk about all these things you want to give away, but at some point, somebody’s got to pay the bill.”

This is exactly what happened on Valentine’s Day two years ago, when President Obama rolled out his six-year transportation budget proposal. The spending side of the ledger was enthusiastically filled in — but the revenue side? Crickets.

As we said at the time, bold and innovative infrastructure proposals are great but it doesn’t really help anything, in these lean times, to promise the moon and then offer nothing in the way of realistic funding.

Now, Boehner’s not blameless in all this. He says he’s looking for a funding source, but only if it rhymes with “soil shilling.” Foil filling? Oil drilling. That’s right. Otherwise, he’s only too happy to cut transportation spending by a third — and next time around, it’ll be an even bigger cut than that. It’s certainly disappointing that Congressional Democrats and the White House have been afraid to come out in favor of a gas tax hike, but it’s not as if Boehner’s been pushing for sensible revenue measures either.

Forty billion dollars for transportation maintenance is a worthy goal. It could hold at bay the calls for highway expansion and help the country get more out of the infrastructure we have, while saving ourselves bigger expenditures on replacement when poorly maintained infrastructure finally needs to go. It could even have big benefits for bicycling.

If we can’t find the money to pay for this, what will we find the money for? U.S. DOT’s plan for 3,000 new miles of highway?