National Public Radio nicely set up President Obama’s bridge publicity stunt on Thursday morning by going to a Republican demanding more federal aid to cities for infrastructure. On their website, the headline was "Infrastructure Funds Benefit More Than The Economy."
Morning Edition substitute anchor David Greene announced their oh-so-convenient booking of a Republican: “A number of U.S. mayors have been in Washington this week for meetings at the White House and on Capitol Hill. Their message: We need help. Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett was in the group from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He was the sole Republican.”
Later, NPR corrected that. There were five Republicans present. But Cornett is a very active member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which always pounds away at the message that they need more, more, more federal dollars. In February, Cornett spoke against proposed cuts by House Republicans in community development block grants. This is why you could see why he’s NPR’s kind of Republican.
Greene began: “Well, you're in Washington certainly at a time of some sharp partisan differences over jobs, over the economy, over a lot. Tell us what your city needs right now from the federal government.” Notice he didn’t ask why cities should get more aid with the current deificit.
Cornett said his city’s economy is very strong, but “that doesn't mean there aren't infrastructure needs that Oklahoma City could benefit from, and certainly the larger eastern cities on this side of the country are in need. And I'm really glad that the president has put a lot of infrastructure attention into this bill.” Then Greene turned it on the GOP:
GREENE: We're talking about infrastructure. It sounds like that might mean more money for projects. And this at a time, of course, when a lot of your fellow Republicans are talking about less spending.
CORNETT: Well, we need to invest in our infrastructure regardless of the economic times. Plus, it would put people back to work. I think construction work also serves an additional asset in that if your citizens are seeing construction, it sort of gives them a feeling that people are investing in the long-term, that things are going to be better, it might help with consumer confidence...[More boasting about how great his city is.]
GREENE: The way you're speaking about infrastructure, you know, spending money on projects, putting people to work, you sound very much like what President Obama has said.
CORNETT: Well, if we agree on something, I'm glad. Because I believe in infrastructure, I believe in investing in your hard assets. Where I think government starts to fail is when it starts getting itself weighed down with the social programs. And I think the American public just feels like a lot of that money is tossed aside and wasted. But they like the idea that they can see a bridge or a road or a new railway station.
GREENE: I'd like to play you, Mayor Cornett, if I can, the voice of one of the leaders of your party, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, and this was his reaction to the president's plan.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL: These are not new ideas. The pay-fors have all been around the track before. And there is bipartisan opposition to every one of them.
GREENE: Bipartisan opposition to every one of them. Is that helpful as sort of a starting point for negotiation?
CORNETT: Senator McConnell told me that he is leading a bipartisan effort willing to compromise, which I think is a little bit contradictory to what the established party line is, you know, this absolutely no-new-taxes line. I felt like there might be some wiggle room in that long-term.
Then Greene suggested Obama’s fiscal proposals are in “the center,” and wondered why the Republicans wouldn’t be happy with that:
GREENE: President Obama has said a combination of perhaps digging in and making some long-term cuts to entitlement programs but also some tax increases on the wealthy, a combination like that, might suit him. Is that the center? Is that a move that you'd be happy with?
CORNETT: Well, you know, the president's talking about it as, I think, as he terms it, taxing the wealthy. And you know, from what I understand, the top 10 percent of the wage earners in this country are paying 70 percent of the taxes today. I don't think the wealthy are getting out of paying taxes.
GREENE: Let's say for the moment that the president does move to that space to your satisfaction - you feel like he's not putting undue burden on the wealthy. Where is your party prepared to move, do you think? Is there some sort of tax that Republicans in Washington would be willing to swallow to form a compromise and start getting that money to cities like yours?
CORNETT: Yeah, I don't have any reason to believe they would. At least I hope that they're open-minded about it, because the country needs to progress.
NPR is always looking for a Republican who has open-mindedness about raising taxes in a recession. We're looking for a Republican who will accept an NPR interview and say "our deficit's so severe it's time for NPR to survive on its own."