Here's a novel idea: Have Congress create a "bank" that could borrow huge sums with only a small federal outlay and would be independent of any political interference. If you believe in this miracle, you probably thought Fannie Mae was a private company that wouldn't cost taxpayers a dime.
We're referring to Washington's latest marketing tool to sell spending to a skeptical public, a new federal "infrastructure bank." For the low, low price of $30 billion or so, President Obama says Congress can conjure hundreds of billions in new "grants and loans" to rebuild "roads, bridges, and ports and broadband lines and smart grids."
He says the bank would put "all those construction workers" back to work and "be good for the economy not just for next year or the year after that, but for the next 20 or 30 years." In a cats and dogs living together moment, the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO are both in favor. Since both unions and construction companies would be beneficiaries, this alone ought to give taxpayers pause.
This is the Fannie Mae model applied to public works. The new bank would be a government-sponsored enterprise, or GSE, whether or not anyone admits it. The bank would have an implicit subsidy for its debt because it is backed by the government. And the debt it issued would be "off-budget," which means it wouldn't show up in annual outlays. When she first proposed the concept in 2008, Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro explicitly described the bank as a "public private partnership like Fannie Mae."
Such an outfit will inevitably be politicized, as similar examples have been all over the world. Japan's postal bank has been used for decades to finance public works. Japan's roads and bridges are grand but its economy has grown little in 20 years. Agribanks, regional development banks, Brazil's BNDES national bank have all become vehicles for the political allocation of credit.
Note the support of this monstrosity by the Chamber of Commerce. Never mix up the CC with limited government, when the money flows inward to CC members the CC has no problem with government spending and scamming.