Fox News' Neil Cavuto refused to hear arguments in favor of expanded infrastructure investments, instead claiming that revenue for necessary improvements will be lost to fraud or waste. Cavuto has repeatedly argued against and downplayed the necessity of infrastructure spending, revealing his misunderstanding of the the federal budgeting process and the current state of American infrastructure.
On the December 3 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, Cavuto engaged in a contentious interview with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) regarding the congressman's proposal to increase the federal gas tax as a means of financing necessary investments in roads, bridges, and other forms of public infrastructure around the country.
On the December 4 edition of Your World, Cavuto returned to the previous night's argument in his opening segment. He was joined in his heated criticism of infrastructure investments by libertarian pundit Matt Welch, editor-in-chief of Reason magazine. Both Cavuto and Welch continually claimed that they do not know where all of the infrastructure and transportation revenue has gone; maintaining only that it must not be going to the places where it is needed:
CAVUTO: To make the point here, that we're not following the moneys we're already spending that, I think, are not exactly in a 'lock box' just meant for this sort of thing.
WELCH: Yeah, I mean if you look at people who advocate for big government, they actually don't spend a lot of time extolling the virtues of big government, because that is an awkward conversation and because it requires them to do what you were asking earlier, is just document what you've already spent.
WELCH: Spending money on the federal level is an inefficient way to deal with local, and state, and city roads.
CAVUTO: If you were to add it all up. Let's say now -- being devil's advocate here -- let's take the stimulus money, the shovel-ready projects a lot of them were infrastructure-targeted, at around $800 billion and average it out over the last five years and throw in the $60 billion or so you're supposed to get from the oil companies, a lot of taxes, and they were going to tap that for infrastructure. You're looking at $250-300 billion a year that would be presumably allocated to just this sort of thing. We're asking for more?
Cavuto's central argument is that the federal government must not be spending money on infrastructure if our infrastructure is in a state of disrepair. Cavuto repeated a popular Fox News thesis, claiming that the government is wasting, misallocating or stealing tax dollars instead of putting them to good use.
In fact, the government's infrastructure budget is simply woefully underfunded.
Cavuto's claim that the federal government is not “exactly skimping” in infrastructure spending is based on his opinion that $121 billion in revenue collected for the construction and maintenance of America's vital infrastructure is big enough.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) disagrees. According to the ASCE's 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure, the vast system of public infrastructure in the United States -- ranging from roads and park trails to canals and ports -- is graded as D+. The ASCE also estimates that required infrastructure investment to give the United States a “first class infrastructure system” by 2020 could reach $3.6 trillion.
Cavuto's misunderstanding of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act prompted him to claim that the United States is already allocating "$250-300 billion" annually to infrastructure. Even if accurate, that inflated figure would still be far below what the experts at the American Society of Civil Engineers deem necessary. A rough calculation of ASCE estimates of necessary infrastructure investment by 2020 reveals a need for up to $500 billion in annual spending.
The investment backlog to modernize America's crumbling bridges alone is estimated to be $121 billion.
The current ASCE grade -- D+ -- is actually an improvement over last year -- evidence that, in the minds of experts, recent infrastructure spending has been put to good use. The average U.S. infrastructure grade from the ASCE has been in the D-range since 1998 “due to delayed maintenance and underinvestment across most categories” of public infrastructure.
Cavuto erroneously claimed that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 -- commonly referred to as “the stimulus” -- contained “around $800 billion” of shovel-ready infrastructure projects while at the same time an on-screen graphic displayed clearly that only $48.1 billion was allocated in the 2009 stimulus for “shovel-ready projects.”
While the stimulus package signed by President Obama in 2009 did contain more than $800 billion in total measures, the vast majority of these were absorbed in corporate and individual tax cuts, temporary expansions of anti-poverty programs, and budget relief for state and local government reeling from the financial crisis. Only a fraction of the bill went to infrastructure spending.
Rather than coming to terms with the facts and the importance of investment in vital infrastructure improvements, Fox News has stood by its narrative that all federal spending is wrought with waste and abuse.