After the drubbing Democrats took in the midterm elections, the president pronounced that he is open to listening if the GOP has some ideas to fund more infrastructure investment, advance early childhood education or improve Obamacare.
That may not quite be what congressional Republicans have in mind, but if I were Sen. McConnell or Speaker Boehner, I could work on those issues -- but with measures that get to the root of some of the country's growth problems.
America spends plenty on infrastructure but it spends it badly -- and that impedes new investments in housing and jobs.
State and local governments, bending to powerful construction and homebuilder lobbies, place too much emphasis on expanding highways to ever more distant suburbs. Specifically, Millennials show a much greater appetite than their parents for living in or near cities and having short commutes. New home construction has shifted toward urban redevelopment, but young folks face daunting transportation problems on overtaxed roads and transit systems.
The "prevailing wage" provision of the Davis-Bacon Act generally requires excessively high union wages on federally assisted projects. That grossly inflates construction costs and reduces the number of projects undertaken. And organized labor represents only 6.7% of the private sector labor force these days.
The gasoline tax was last raised since 1997, and the federal highway trust fund is broke. The GOP leadership should craft a bill that increases the tax in line with inflation but refocuses spending more on relieving congestion and bottlenecks on urban roads and rail, and repeals Davis-Bacon.
Obama always seems to like more taxes, and he would find the urban emphasis, serving the needs of his young constituents, intriguing -- but would likely develop apoplexy about repealing Davis- Bacon.
McConnell and Boehner could refer him to Gov. Scott Walker, who has cleaned out union obstructions to growth and has Wisconsin's economy firing on all cylinders. The governor won his reelection the same day the president took his national shellacking.