Earlier this week, House Democrats announced they were pursuing a coronavirus infrastructure response as part of a “phase 4” relief bill. As I noted two weeks ago, a transportation infrastructure stimulus package makes no sense as a response to the current pandemic. It won’t boost the economy in the short run and we still have no idea how the coronavirus will impact travel behavior over the medium and long run—and thus no idea what our medium- and long-run infrastructure investment priorities should be.
But the House Democrats’ proposal is even sillier than I had expected. It’s literally just a rerelease of a $760 billion, five-year infrastructure proposal they released in January, with a few ornaments like $10 billion more for health care facilities added to buy minimal plausibility. The core $760 billion package has absolutely nothing to do with an effective response to coronavirus and everything to do with manipulating the public into believing it does.
Speaker Pelosi and her colleagues should have been laughed out of the (virtual) room for this stunt. The only prudent move at the moment with respect to Congress and infrastructure investment is to prepare a temporary extension of the FAST Act, which expires at the end of September, in order to buy time to gather better information on how coronavirus may alter travel behavior and infrastructure use after the lockdown orders are lifted. That’s it.