Public works spending was an integral component of John F. Kennedy’s fiscal policy. Drawing on a wide range of archival evidence from the Kennedy Presidential Library, we show how the administration worked to pass a $2.5 billion infrastructure bill that would give the presidency unilateral authority in determining where and when those funds would be spent. Contrary to recent accounts that emphasize Kennedy’s role in promoting massive tax cuts in 1963–64, the 1962 Public Works Acceleration Act was a key fiscal instrument that Kennedy advocated prior to the administration’s push for tax reform. Moreover, the public works policy was strictly Keynesian—designed as a proactive countercyclical “stabilizer” that would generate budget deficits in order to make up for slack in a recession. Kennedy’s plan faced stiff resistance in Congress and the history of the law offers important lessons for why infrastructure programs are often disregarded as countercyclical instruments.
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