The answer to Neil Irwin's question is: You're kidding, right? Of course Congress is going to pass up this opportunity.
Is Congress really going to miss its free lunch on infrastructure?No, one cannot easily imagine that. Not unless one is ridiculously naive about the Republican Party.
... The early buzz from the White House is that ... the economy is a major focus of [President Obama's State of the Union] speech. In particular, he will call for new infrastructure investment....
Could Congressional Republicans be ready to sign on to some form of large-scale investment in the nation’s transportation and energy infrastructure?
... With interest rates near all-time lows and millions of construction workers unemployed, the last few years have been a time that it would have been a historical bargain for the United States to do upgrades to roads, bridges, and airports that will eventually need to take place anyway. It has been a political breakdown -- in particular conservatives' view of almost any non-defense federal spending as wasteful -- standing in the way.
... this is an area where there should be room for the two parties to work together. Business interests tend to favor new infrastructure spending, for both the benefits it brings for the companies that would like faster and more efficient ways to ship their goods and the construction companies that stand to make money actually building the stuff. Even small government conservatives want to have quality roads in their districts.
... One can easily imagine a deal: Democrats get their new infrastructure spending, and Republicans insist on a structure that requires private sector lenders to be co-investors in any projects, deploying money based on its potential return rather than where the political winds are tilting....
First of all, CEOs don't care about infrastructure in the abstract -- they care about getting the infrastructure they want where they've set up shop. They don't give a crap about crumbling bridges five states away. They play state and local governments off against one another until they get what they need, in terms of infrastructure and -- more important -- in terms of tax and regulatory breaks. They want government to essentially subsidize whatever they're doing. They usually get what they want.
As for Republicans, they think what America critically needs is a massive redistribution of wealth to the wealthy -- that's much more important than repairing some roads. They want taxes on the rich slashed, regulations gutted, and Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security eviscerated. The way they're going to get that to happen is to keep the economy in the doldrums until Democrats are voted out or lose credibility. Republicans actually think we'll return to prosperity only if we go Randian -- nothing else will work, and Randianism absolutely will work. So they don't care about crumbling infrastructure. If we're not in the Rand Utopia, fixing infrastructure is irrelevant; if we get to the Rand Utopia, capitalist magic will make all the roads shiny and new.
So don't be silly, Neil. Of course this opportunity won't be seized.