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

3:17 PM EDT on May 5, 2010

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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