When Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., announced recently that his state would scale back its failing high-speed rail project, President Donald Trump demanded that California return the $2.5 billion in federal funds that had already been provided. The president also said the Transportation Department would terminate a $929 million federal grant supporting the project.
Originally projected to cost $40 billion, the high-speed rail was more recently projected at $37 billion over budget, at least four years delayed in certain sections, and had already cost taxpayers $4 billion. Whether the federal government will be able to recoup money it pledged for the project is unclear, but that question misses the broader point: I fear America is unable to do anything big.
What happened in California is just the latest example of this country’s inability to complete big economic projects. Last year, a multiyear effort to build a state-of-the-art nuclear power plant in South Carolina was abandoned, declaring an end to what the New York Times described as “a project that was once expected to showcase advanced nuclear technology but has since been plagued by delays and cost overruns.” Construction on the power plant was shut down with less than 40 percent built at a cost of roughly $9 billion, and overruns led to an eventual projected cost of as much as $25 billion to complete the project, more than twice the initial $11.5 billion estimate.
The year before that, work on the Port of Savannah in Georgia came to a halt when it was discovered that deepening the port to accommodate newer, larger vessels coming through the Panama Canal would cost “38 percent more and take two years longer to complete than initially expected,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. At that point, the state had already spent its initial $266 million share of the original cost. Our politicians talk about imports and exports, but we can’t even have our ports keep pace with the size of ships that are facilitating trade around the world.
And don’t even get me started about the private sector’s plight in trying to overcome all the nails that can be thrown in their path — mostly by Democratic politicians and activists. How do Democrats reconcile the Green New Deal’s call for “guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security” while some opposed the 25,000 new jobs that Amazon would have brought to New York City? Exactly what kind of jobs and what kind of pay are Democrats guaranteeing for everyone? Where will everyone work?
The horror stories associated with the Keystone XL pipeline are famous, but recently former vice president Al Gore suggested that Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam could atone for a yearbook blackface photo in the 1980s by fighting to oppose the $7.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Really? Somehow, Virginians will feel better about Northam or Northam will feel better about himself if this megaproject is disrupted? What would Northam’s absolution cost the commonwealth? How should the state budget and household budgets be adjusted?
Democrats need to reconcile their call for infrastructure spending while appearing to be against so many specific infrastructure projects. They claim to support infrastructure, but they are responsible for crafting the regulations and encouraging nongovernmental organizations and activists that derail those investments, which lead to higher costs and the further erosion of the United States’ economic potential. The result? We are spending more than ever but we are not building assets. Natural gas shortages are plaguing New York. Significant vulnerabilities are emerging for New England’s electric grid. There are even higher electricity rates in Connecticut. We are creating self-induced chokepoints for our exports at U.S. ports.
Beyond a list of giveaways — including everything from free college to a growing call for reparations — Democrats do not have a serious economic message. Maybe they can start by defining what infrastructure they would, in fact, support. They cannot claim to be for creating jobs while also pushing policies that are economically destructive.
I have always lamented that our political campaigns are decoupling from the problems our elected leaders face once in government. So, which is it Democrats? Real infrastructure or the anti-growth, anti-development positions that so many Democrats seem to openly embrace? Who among the 2020 Democrats really support traditional infrastructure improvement? They can’t have it both ways.
America used to have the biggest and best of everything. Why can’t both parties settle on that as a common goal?
Ed Rogers is a Washington Post contributing writer, political consultant and a vereran of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses.