How Fix It First Might Help the GOP Save Itself

The Wall Street Journal's editors called Obama "a president without a plan" after last October's presidential debates. But the pugilists on the WSJ editorial board should know better than to cast the first stone: now that a reelected President Obama has unveiled a plan for rebuilding America's infrastructure and other major issues, what's becoming clear is that the GOP is a party without a purpose.

Here's what the Journal had to say last year:

As for the next four years: [Obama] said he has a plan "for manufacturing and education and reducing our deficit in a sensible way, using the savings from ending wars to rebuild America" and pursuing "the energy of the future." Then he attacked Mr. Romney again.
The Republican followed by reciting the economic failings of the last four years, piling on fact after depressing fact. "I can tell you that if you were to elect President Obama, you know what you're going to get. You're going to get a repeat of the last four years. We just can't afford four more years like the last four years," Mr. Romney said.

It was his most effective argument of a generally good but not great night. It is also the fundamental choice that Americans face in this campaign.

In fact, Obama was simply outlining in that debate the plan he has actually begun to pursue in his second term. Congressional Republicans may feel that they need something to oppose in order to appease voters in their home districts -- but it should be self-evident that fixing those same voters' roads and bridges isn't it. These "block anything that comes from the Democratic side" members of the GOP caucus are going to block themselves right out of existence.

Philanthropist Peter Goldmark wrote in Newsday in March that Obama should bypass Congress and go directly to the states to create the public-private infrastructure banks that will finance the repairing of roads, bridges, airports and transit systems.

"There is only one area of the economy where you can create lots of jobs starting soon, where the jobs will all stay in this country, where the result of the investments will make the nation more competitive globally over the long run, where the economic activity launched is something the public and private sector already know how to do, where the investment meets a deep and widely recognized need without expanding the role of government into new areas, and that will harness private capital and generate badly needed tax revenue from growth for all three levels of government. It's capital infrastructure. Invest in transportation facilities of all kinds, in water and sewage systems, and as the president suggested, in energy efficiency.

The way to start this up politically, in the face of an always-say-no House of Representatives, is to make it a partnership with the states, and leave it to each state to decide if they want to opt in and help finance it.

But first, the president has to get out there and push this plan."

Goldmark has a point: bypassing the intransigent House Republican caucus is probably the only way to get this done. But we shouldn't give up entirely on House Republicans. They could end up reaping some benefits from the Fix It First plan.

Obama's override of congressional gridlock to invest in infrastructure might be the best thing to happen to Republicans in a long time. Forcing Republicans to watch and applaud (however reluctantly) as their home states invest in saving America's roads and bridges could boost the GOP's sagging public image, and help save a party that is too dysfunctional to save itself. Leaving them to implode and die would leave us with a one-party political system. How boring. Let's challenge them to see if they can come up with a way to participate in rebuilding America once Fix It First is under way. Maybe, with a little time to reflect, they will find in themselves the political will to govern instead of merely standing in the way.