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November 25, 2014

Bob Davis: Locked down by ideology

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Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2014 3:20 am

In 1983, congressional Democrats and Republican President Ronald Reagan agreed on reform measures to extend the life of Social Security. The compromise included tax increases and benefit reductions. (Yes, President Reagan raised taxes.)

Much — perhaps too much — has been made of this deal between Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill, D-Mass. The era was not a perfect example of bipartisanship, a sort of fantasy land where ugly political rhetoric was never heard. Yet, something worked, and chances are that you or someone you care about benefited from this 1983 bargain, which extended the life of Social Security for decades.

This month’s dispute pitting R’s against D’s in Washington is over federal transportation spending. With an Aug. 1 deadline, the House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would finance transportation needs through May 2015. That’s far short of the four-year spending plan the president proposed earlier in 2014.

It’s unclear which direction the Senate will take — a short-term fix or something deeper into the future. Based on recent history, the safer odds are on funding that covers months, not years.

That’s been the pattern. Short-term patches are seemingly the preferred option, on budgeting, on the debt-ceiling and until recently on a farm bill. A lack of a long-range plan for transportation spending would be in good company.

“This is one heck of a way to run a railroad,” Greg Valliere, the Potomac Research Group’s chief political strategist, told public radio program Marketplace last week. “It makes it very difficult for companies to hire, to plan for benefits, to buy supplies.”

It seems the stakes are so high for the next election — and there’s always a next election — that Washington can’t find a way to smartly plan for the future.

Wait a minute, the partisans exclaim, we can’t compromise because we can’t trust the other guys.

Most Americans on some level understand that ideology has the nation locked down over issues such as health-care policy, tax rates and national security. But this latest fight is over transportation — moving goods and people from one place to the other. Unless the hermit faction is larger than I imagine, we all need roads and bridges. And it would be nice if the roads were smooth, safe and capable of moving traffic quickly and efficiently.

Some things aren’t optional. We need them, and roads to move the people of an industrialized and modern democracy should be high on that list.

Managing stormwater is another item on that list. While hardly a thrilling topic, it’s extremely important; just ask someone whose front yard floods every time it rains.

Let’s consider the city of Anniston. The City Council recently approved a new fee schedule for all property owners to pay to upgrade how Anniston manages stormwater. While paying more to government isn’t usually welcomed, Anniston had few options. Its aging stormwater pipes that have already caused property damage are rapidly deteriorating. This infrastructure won’t repair itself. So, the city decided to raise money to make the necessary upgrades. To put off a solution was to invite more trouble and expense in the future. By one estimate, the compromised system maybe have already cost the city $500,000.

There’s a lesson here for Washington, something about not putting things off for some magical time in the future when the “politics are right.”

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