In making their case for the economic stimulus bill, President Obama and Democrats in Congress have been saying the bill will make an investment in the nation's infrastructure similar to President Eisenhower's creation of the interstate highway system in the 1950s.
When Obama gave an initial outline of the stimulus plan in a radio/YouTube address on Dec. 6, 2008, he said it would include a significant investment in the highway system.
"We will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s," he said, referring to the interstate system launched by President Eisenhower. "We’ll invest your precious tax dollars in new and smarter ways, and we’ll set a rule — use it or lose it. If a state doesn’t act quickly to invest in roads and bridges in their communities, they’ll lose the money."
Obama also invoked Eisenhower during a Dec. 19, 2008, news conference in Chicago: "Our economy boomed in the 20th century when President Eisenhower remade the American landscape by building the interstate highway system. Now we need to remake our transportation system for the 21st century."
The Ike comparisons have irked Rep. John Mica of Florida, the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. In a comment to the Washington Post published Jan. 28, 2009, Mica complained that the highway portion of the stimulus was small change compared with the cost of the 1950s program.
Mica said the proposed infrastructure spending was "almost minuscule" in the $825 billion stimulus bill and said he was disappointed the transportation portion was not based on an ambitious goal such as building high-speed rail lines.
"They keep comparing this to Eisenhower, but he proposed a $500 billion highway system, and they're going to put $30 billion" in roads and bridges, Mica said. "How farcical can you be? Give me a break."
So let's check Mica's numbers.
First, Mica is correct that the highway portion of the stimulus is $30 billion, according to the House Appropriations Committee summary of the bill.
As for the Eisenhower system, the number went up as the system grew.
When Ike proposed the program in 1955, he wrote Congress that, "Our unity as a nation is secured by free communication of thought and by easy transportation of people and goods." (The original letter provided to reporters gives an entertaining glimpse into White House press relations 50 years go. It is typed on a manual typewriter and tells reporters that it "MUST BE HELD IN STRICT CONFIDENCE and no portion, synopsis or intimation may be given out or published UNTIL RELEASE TIME.")
Eisenhower estimated the interstate portion of his plan would cost $25 billion over 10 years ($198 billion in today's dollars). That's significantly lower than the number Mica cited, even in current dollars.
But the ultimate cost is in line with what Mica said: The total cost is now roughly $445 billion in today's dollars, according to a 1996 report for the American Highway Users Alliance. Another estimate , on the Web site What it Costs.com, puts the number right at $500 billion.
So Mica is right on the $30 billion for the current stimulus bill, but the $500 billion interstate cost he cites is the ultimate cost, not the original proposal from Eisenhower. His underlying point is still correct, however, that the highway portion of the stimulus bill is small compared with Ike's plan. So we find his statement Mostly True.