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Boehner reflects on the Hoover Dam

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House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke to the National Association of Manufacturers yesterday, and said he'd like to see the United States become "a nation of builders" again -- but that rascally President Obama stands in the way.

"America's greatness has always rested on our ability to build and produce things," Boehner said. "Under the Obama administration, however, it's become harder than ever to build in this country." [...]

"[T]he Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, or even our highway system would be almost impossible to build in today's regulatory environment," Boehner said. "This administration would have us believe we can build a great nation on reams of red tape while operating a service economy with things built by earlier generations."

It was kind of amusing to me to see Boehner phrase his argument this way, because parts of this are similar to President Obama's own rhetoric. Remember the "you didn't build that" remarks he delivered during the campaign? Obama said at the time, "The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.... We say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That's how we funded the GI Bill. That's how we created the middle class. That's how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam."

Obama's point was that the nation can still achieve great things if we work together, share common goals, and maintain our sense of national ambition. Boehner's point was that the nation probably can't achieve great things because red tape is bad.

One of these arguments makes sense, and I'll give you a hint: it's not the one coming from the House Speaker.

I should note that I have a special fondness for the Hoover Dam, not just as engineering marvel, but also as a political metaphor. Remember Rachel's "Lean Forward" promo from two years ago?

For those who can't watch clips online, here's what Rachel said in the spot:

"When you are this close to Hoover Dam, it makes you realize how small a human is in relation to this as a human project. You can't be the guy who builds this. You can't be the town who builds this. You can't even be the state who builds this. You have to be the country that builds something like this. This is a national project. This is a project of national significance. We've got those projects on the menu right now. And we've got to figure out whether or not we are still a country that can think this big."

Now, according to the House Speaker, the answer is, "Probably not." Those pesky regulations, he says, stand in the way of projects of national significance.

Let's put aside, at least for now, the fact that Boehner has no idea how many regulations were used to construct the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Interstate Highway System. Let's instead focus on more practical considerations.

Indeed, what I'd like to see Democrats do is call Boehner's bluff -- he wants the United States to get behind projects like the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Interstate Highway System? That's great news, because for the past several years, Boehner and just about every member of his political party in Congress has rejected the idea of public investment in infrastructure and public works.

Was yesterday a reflection of a shift in Republican priorities?

Note that Boehner didn't reference private-sector triumphs in his speech; he touted government triumphs, created after public officials agreed to invest public funds for the public good. The Speaker now looks at these projects as worthwhile endeavors worthy of boasts? Terrific -- then let's do more of this. If the "regulatory environment" won't allow projects of national significance -- it will; he's wrong -- then I imagine Democrats would gladly change the regulations to make the projects possible.

It would certainly be a pleasant change of pace for GOP policymakers, most of whom have opposed infrastructure spending, and many of whom believe federal efforts in this area are necessarily unconstitutional and inconsistent with the 10th Amendment (the Constitution doesn't mention highways, bridges, or dams).

So what's it going to be, Mr. Speaker? How committed are you to seeing the nation build things again?