By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
President Obama has proposed a number of specific policies to tackle the jobs crisis, but they have gone nowhere because Republicans say that their top concern is the deficit and debt.
Those of us worried about the debt - and I would strongly include myself - need to remember that if unemployment doesn't go down fast, the deficit is going to get much worse. If you're serious about deficit reduction, the single most important factor that will shrink it is to have more people working and paying taxes.
I want to focus on one of Obama's proposals because it actually would add very little to the deficit, it has some Republican supporters and it would have an immediate effect on boosting employment and growth. Plus, it's good for the country anyway.
We need a national infrastructure bank to repair and rebuild America's crumbling infrastructure. The House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, has played down this proposal as just more stimulus, but if Republicans set aside ideology, they would actually see that this is an opportunity to push for two of their favorite ideas - privatization and the elimination of earmarks. That's why Republicans like Kay Bailey Hutchison and Chuck Hagel are strongly in favor of such a bank.
The United States builds its infrastructure in a remarkably socialist manner. The government funds bills and operates almost all American infrastructure.
Now, in many countries in Europe and Asia the private sector plays a much larger role in financing and operating roads, highways, railroads, airports and other public resources. An infrastructure bank would create a mechanism by which you could have private sector participation.
Yes, there would be some public money involved, though mostly through issuing bonds. And with interest rates at historic lows, this is the time to use those low interest rates to borrow money and rebuild America's infrastructure. Such projects have huge long-term payoffs and can genuinely be thought of as investments, not expenditures.
A national infrastructure bank would also address a legitimate complaint of the Tea Party - earmark spending. One of the reasons federal spending has been inefficient is that Congress wants to spread the money around in ways that might make political sense but are economic nonsense.
An infrastructure bank would make those decisions using cost-benefit analysis in a meritocratic system rather than spreading the wealth around and basing these decisions on patronage, politics and whimsy.
Let's face it, America's infrastructure is in a shambles. Just a decade ago, we ranked sixth in infrastructure in the world according to the World Economic Forum. Today we rank 23rd and dropping. We will not be able to compete with the nations of the world if we cannot fix this problem.
Is it too much to ask that Republicans and Democrats find a way to come together on this?
That moment of bipartisanship might actually be the biggest payoff of all.