The Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia that left six people dead and dozens more injured has already prompted calls for increased infrastructure spending. "This one is a wake-up call," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. "We have got to get serious about investing in infrastructure."
There have been other wake-up calls before, and the dire need for infrastructure renewal isn’t news. Yet, as Politico’s Kathryn A. Wolfe reported, the deadly crash occurred just as a House panel was set to mark up a bill that would cut Amtrak’s funding for 2016 to $1.13 billion, or about $250 million less than the railroad service typically gets. (To be fair, it’s also not clear at this point what caused the horrific Amtrak derailment and whether infrastructure problems played a part or not — and the number of rail accidents each year has actually fallen significantly since 2006, according to Federal Railroad Administration data.)
Even before the Amtrak tragedy, though, de Blasio and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, a Republican, along with some two dozen other mayors were scheduled to travel to Washington, D.C. today to press Congress for a long-term renewal of the federal transportation authorization bill. The current funding law is set to expire May 31.
Pretty much everyone agrees that it’s well past time for the country to repair and rebuild its dangerously dated bridges, roads, railways, water mains and other critical infrastructure. The hold-up has always been over how to fund it.
Here’s one suggestion: The U.S. has spent some $110 billion on rebuilding Afghanistan, including billions that can’t be accounted for or that the inspector general has found have been wasted. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the trillions in domestic infrastructure spending that some have called for. Still, clamping down on that waste in Afghanistan, and on other money being frittered away, might allow for some spending to be redirected to other necessary and more productive needs, like domestic infrastructure.
That’s not to suggest we must entirely abandon nation building abroad in order to rebuild this country. It’s just to point out that Congress should be able to find the money to address our national priorities, something it has miserably failed to do of late.
The federal government’s total non-defense discretionary spending – which covers everything from education and national parks to veterans’ medical care and low-income housing assistance – equals 3.2% of GDP in 2020, near historic lows going back to 1962, according to an analysis this week from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated this week that President Trump has now signed legislation that will add a total of $4.7 trillion to the national debt between 2017 and 2029. Tax cuts and spending increases account for similar portions of the projected increase, though if the individual tax cuts in the 2017 Republican overhaul are extended beyond their current expiration date at the end of 2025, they would add another $1 trillion in debt through 2029.
Are interest rates destined to move higher, increasing the cost of private and public debt? While many experts believe that higher rates are all but inevitable, historian Paul Schmelzing argues that today’s low-interest environment is consistent with a long-term trend stretching back 600 years.
The chart “shows a clear historical downtrend, with rates falling about 1% every 60 years to near zero today,” says Bloomberg’s Aaron Brown. “Rates do tend to revert to a mean, but that mean seems to be declining.”
Lawmakers are considering three separate bills that are intended to reduce the cost of prescription drugs. Here’s an overview of the proposals, from a series of charts produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation this week. An interesting detail highlighted in another chart: 88% of voters – including 92% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans – want to give the government the power to negotiate prices with drug companies.