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White House Tells Senate: Grants No Substitute For Infrastructure Bank

11:38 AM PDT on September 11, 2009

The White House has reiterated its commitment to a national infrastructure bank
(NIB), urging the Senate to reconsider a 2010 transportation spending
bill that would "substitute in its place" $1.1 billion in grants.

2003992830.jpgPatty Murray (D-WA) heads the Senate panel in charge of U.S. DOT spending. (Photo: Seattle Times)

In a statement of policy on the Senate's transport spending bill,
which is slated for floor debate starting Monday, the Obama
administration noted that an NIB could provide not only grants but also
credit-based financing such as loans and bonds:

The Administration encourages the Congress to supportthe creation of a National Infrastructure Bank and not substitute inits place a national infrastructure grant program ... Once established,a Bank will help forge a new path forward in infrastructure sponsorshipand cross-jurisdictional partnership.

The House's 2010 transport spending bill allows
half of its $4 billion in high-speed rail money to be transferred to an
NIB, provided that such an entity is authorized by Congress next year.
That remains an open question, given the strong likelihood of a delay in the next long-term transportation bill.

The
$1.1 billion grant program included in the Senate's spending bill
follows a model similar to the $1.5 billion "TIGER" grants authorized
by this year's economic stimulus law. The TIGER funding is open to
proposals in any transport mode -- from rail to ports to cycling -- and
will be distributed early next year by the U.S. DOT based on economic
and environmental merit, as well as other factors.

While
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has spoken often of the flood of
interest generated by the TIGER money, the White House's statement
makes clear that it has not abandoned the push for an NIB.

One crucial decision
on the NIB, meanwhile, has yet to be made: whether it will be housed
within the U.S. DOT, as House transport committee chairman Jim Oberstar
(D-MN) has suggested, or set up as an independent entity, as Rep. Rosa
DeLauro (D-CT) proposed in her NIB legislation.

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