The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

April 8, 2013

John Sullivan, guest columnist: The time to rebuild America is now

PITTSBURG, Kan. — It’s time for Congress to stop saying “no” and start saying “go.”

Go forth and build bridges, tunnels, roads, schools and high-speed rail systems. It’s time to stop being stupid and start building up this country again. Political rhetoric aside, the longer we wait to fix our roads and bridges, the further behind we get in the race to maintain our competitive advantage in a more competitive world. So, enough already with the obstructions, congressional Republicans. Let’s get on with the program of rebuilding America.

Yes, we have debt. Yes, we need to reform and modify our entitlement programs. Yes, we need to fix the size of our military and what it costs to maintain it. But that doesn’t mean that we stop investing in the infrastructure of the country while we deal with our debtor status.

And I’d like to remind my Republican friends that it was not entirely our current president who put us in our current fiscal pickle. I seem to remember an unfunded war that was launched on false premises putting $3 trillion dollars on the national credit card. Then there were the Bush-era tax cuts for the well-to-do and the Medicare prescription drug program, neither of which were funded. All of this helped put us in the deep hole we are trying to crawl out of now. There was nary a whimper of concern about spending when a Republican occupied the White House.

Where were all the deficit hawks then? They are coming out of the woodwork now, crying that the sky is falling, and it might be if we can’t get our collective house in order and do two things. We need to raise enough revenue to run the government and the programs that are necessary for national well-being; and reduce wasteful, inefficient governmental programs (many of which are duplicates) and right-size the government. The military should not be exempt from that process, either.

If we can build roads, bridges and schools in Afghanistan while we are trying to right-size the federal budget, can we not do the same thing in our own country? Why must we wait as our roads and bridges crumble? Do the congressional Republicans really want to wait four more years to build bridges, roads and schools? Did we not have an election last fall that should have settled something?

In response to the president’s comments on the subject in Florida recently, House Speaker John Boehner was quoted as saying that Republicans “also wanted to upgrade American roads, bridges and other infrastructure, but only if it could be paid for.” Boehner’s office distributed comments he made last month after President Obama’s State of the Union address.

“It’s easy to go out there and be Santa Claus and talk about all the things you want to give away,” Boehner said. “But at some point, somebody has to pay the bill.”

OK, we know that. And, by the way, Mr. Speaker, once the expenses are decided upon, the bill should be paid — all of the bills. That is part of the process of being a grown-up, not flinching on our debt limit and using it as a political pawn to extract concessions.

The latest report card for America’s infrastructure had an unexpected bit of qualified good news: The collective infrastructure grade has inched up to a D-plus. It’s the first time in the 15 years that the engineering organization has conducted its study that the grade has improved. The full report can be downloaded, along with interactive analysis of all 50 states, at www.infrastructure reportcard.org.

But here’s the question: Is moving from a D to a D-plus good enough for the leading country of the free world? I think not. It’s time to set aside the megaphones and pick up the shovels. We have lots of digging to do to get ourselves out of the hole we have put ourselves in. We have no time to waste.

John T. Sullivan Jr. teaches at Pittsburg State University and lives in Pittsburg, Kan.

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