Though the battle over infrastructure spending is occupying much of Washington this week, former Vice President Dick Cheney is urging lawmakers to forget about highways – and beef up the Pentagon’s budget instead.
The federal Highway Trust Fund is on the brink of going belly up unless Congress finds a last-minute solution. Yet Cheney, flanked by his wife, Lynne, and their daughter, Liz, said Monday that the most important spending priority right now should be the military, “not food stamps, not highways or anything else,” during a luncheon in D.C. sponsored by Politico.
Cheney, a critic of President Obama, unsurprisingly took one (of many) potshots at the president for “dramatically reducing the military.” Cheney called budget belt-tightening at the Pentagon “outrageous.”
“Your number one responsibility as president is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” he told an audience of several hundred people. “He’s the commander-in-chief and he’s absolutely devastating the United States military today.”
Cheney’s comments come as the White House is aggressively pushing Congress to pass the expiring Highway Trust Fund. The Department of Transportation has already warned that it will begin cutting federal dollars to the states before the end of the month, putting scores of infrastructure projects, and many more construction jobs, at risk.
On Monday, the President’s Council of Economic Advisors released a report detailing the country’s lagging infrastructure in an effort to prod Congress to pass legislation to save the trust fund.
The report says about two-thirds of the country’s roads are rated “less than good,” and one in four bridges requires significant repair. Some 45 percent of the population lacks access to transit, according to the report.
It also includes a state-by-state breakdown of what is at stake if Congress lets the Highway Trust Fund go broke. Virginia, for example, could lose 17,228 jobs and 6,596 transportation projects, the report said.
The president is trying to push a larger plan, estimated at $302 billion for transportation, which would close certain tax loopholes to fund infrastructure projects.
Committees in both the House and Senate, meanwhile, have approved versions of the highway bill extension to finance the trust fund into May of next year. Those would provide upwards of $11billion for transportation projects. The House expects to take up its version this week.
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