While GOP Dithers Over Default, Infrastructure Crumbles

We do have a spending problem, you know. We're not spending enough on infrastructure and it's a real problem. Via CBS in Minnesota: According to Anoka County Dispatch, emergency crews received a call at about 7:09 a.m. that several train

We do have a spending problem, you know. We're not spending enough on infrastructure and it's a real problem.

Via CBS in Minnesota:

According to Anoka County Dispatch, emergency crews received a call at about 7:09 a.m. that several train cars had derailed, including the locomotive, over Rice Creek in Fridley. Rice Creek feeds from Rice Lake into the Mississippi River.

The train is from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe company. At least two workers have been injured, but there are no other reports of serious injuries at this time.

BNSF Spokesperson Amy McBeth said it appears a washout occurred as a result of heavy rains in the area and likely caused the train derailment. The washout was west of the railroad bridge, which was damaged as a result of the derailment.

McBeth said 17 cars, including two locomotives, derailed Saturday morning. An engineer and conductor were the only people on the train when it derailed. They were transported to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The spokesperson said the train had a total of 110 cars and three locomotives. The spokesperson also said about 50 trains use that route on a daily basis. The tracks there will be out of service “for a while” as crews work to clear cars, repair the tracks and conduct an investigation to determine how exactly the train derailed.

As it happens, I'm in the middle of house renovations right now. The renovations are more difficult than they should have to be because we put them off for too long and the repairs are much more expensive. Instead of simply replacing a shower pan, we have to tear the whole thing down to the studs and replace subfloors. Instead of patching some wood rot, we're going to have to tear out bathroom #2, jack up the cast iron tub and replace the entire subfloor. We were stupid. So is the US government, and this Republican congress in particular.

When Republican Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke says the economy needs more stimulus right now, not less spending, it should be a clue that there's a problem. Wall Street reacted to those remarks with optimism. But after a week of garment-rending over spending, bond defaults, and other irrelevant and ultimately ridiculous posturing, Bernanke said there would be no action by the Fed to stimulate spending, and the markets reacted accordingly.

Not that there should necessarily be action by the Fed. There should be action by the Congress, and President Obama tried to push them in that direction earlier this week:

"The infrastructure bank that we've proposed is relatively small," he said. "But could we imagine a project where we're rebuilding roads, bridges and ports and schools and broadband lines and smart-grids and taking all those construction workers and putting them back to work right now?

"I can imagine a very aggressive program like that around that I think the American people would rally around and that I think would be good for the economy not just next year or the year after, but for the next 20 or 30 years," Obama continued.

Ironic that this bridge collapse happened in Minnesota, where Governor Dayton finally appears to have come to a deal with legislators to end the 2-week government shutdown there. Unfortunately, Dayton is going to take a heavy political hit for this deal, since it essentially grants everything Republicans wanted with one exception: They agreed to take the social wedge issues out. So abortion and stem cell research at the Mayo Clinic survived, as did the jobs of 15% of Minnesota's public employees. But Dayton was forced to give up raising taxes on wealthy Minnesotans.

This is the difference between states and the federal government. States are forced to balance their budgets, and they often look to the federal government for assistance in getting that done. But on a federal level, a balanced budget would be a disaster, despite the fact that Republicans say otherwise. Dayton had to balance 22,000 employees furloughed against those tax increases, and employees won. But it won't play that way to voters, I think. Bottom line in Minnesota? Republicans took hostages they were willing to shoot. The same is not true on a federal level.

The national default "crisis" talks is how effectively Republicans shifted focus from investment in this country to austerity, and yes, Obama followed along perhaps a little too closely, though he certainly has tried to make a case for an infrastructure bank and other investment this past week. At the same time, I'm not clear on how to make the case in a way that people will understand because it's counterintuitive, this idea of government spending to stimulate the economy. It's right. But it's counterintuitive, and that's largely because we have a news media that starts on a basis that Republicans' claims are fact, and doesn't ever bother to report or investigate alternate themes.

This manufactured "default crisis" will likely end with Congress passing a clean bill. I just don't see any grand bargains being possible with the climate as hostile as it is right now in DC. But the real cost will be how Republicans have driven home the austerity theme, regardless of how indefensible it is to claim austerity while not asking anyone with the means to give a little more to end things.

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