Hillary Clinton is right on infrastructure, but more is needed
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Secretary Clinton published a plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure earlier this year, and is now making infrastructure investments a key part of her economic pitch to the American people. Her plan focuses on key needs like road and bridge repair, investing in public transit, increasing freight rail capacity, renovating airports and the air traffic control system, increasing broadband access, upgrading water and sewer systems, and modernizing the nation’s antiquated power grid.

Her proposal costs $275 billion and is a good start, but a report by the American Society of Civil Engineers says that the country actually needs $1.6 trillion in infrastructure spending at all levels by 2020 to bring us up to date and to make America competitive with the rest of the world.

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Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNearly 300 former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter DC correspondent on the death of Michael Reinoehl: 'The folks I know in law enforcement are extremely angry about it' Late night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study MORE has also been pushing for increased investments, but without the specificity of Secretary Clinton. At least both candidates are talking about it. The problem is that the term, “infrastructure” is a “soft” term, and needs some meat on the bone to give it meaning to the American people.

Infrastructure means millions of good paying jobs for lots of Americans who are either out of work or underemployed. In large part, the presidential campaign has properly focused on the anxiety of American workers and families over their economic future, and a large and well managed program of rebuilding our country can provide a good deal of the answers to these anxieties.

We can provide millions of good paying jobs to people who need them the most. And, by repairing and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure we can more easily move goods to domestic and international markets, making us a much more competitive country.

Historically, many in Congress have been skeptical of large public works expenditures, so there is no doubt that if Secretary Clinton becomes president, she will have a tough sell convincing many in Congress that the scale of this effort must be sufficiently large enough to make a difference. Making it one of her top four or five priorities in her first 100 days is critical. And it must be properly explained as a huge job creator and if implemented it must be properly managed.

To accomplish all of this, she should immediately call for a National Conference on our infrastructure needs, focusing in large part on the needs of the States as identified by the nation’s governors, mayors and members of Congress. She must do this to lay out a grand strategy and get the bipartisan buy in of state and local government officials. She should also include the private sector, construction industry, labor unions, architectural and engineering firms, and the environmental community in this effort.

Managing this initiative will be no small task. The federal bureaucracy can stand in the way of getting things done effectively. She will need a high performance team to address this issue. And to coordinate the various public and private sector pieces to the puzzle she will need a seasoned manager, perhaps a former governor or military leader to be in charge of implementation.

The taxpayers generally have confidence in the value of these construction projects, but in all candor have felt burned by the lack of coordination and efficiency of federal efforts. Strong leadership can make a huge difference in how the public assesses these initiatives. And her team must know that she is fully behind this effort all the way.

Of course there is a question of how to pay for all of this. Whether it's a national infrastructure bank, raising the gas tax, repatriating corporate profits held overseas or any other idea, it will take some political courage by the Congress and the next president to find the resources. But the alternative is a country in a state of decay and perpetual economic and political weakness.

Infrastructure spending is wise for the economic future of the country, will help us keep a worldwide economic leadership role, but will also help Americans believe that their country can actually do things again. Trust in government is at all-time lows; rebuilding the country can show the American people that their tax dollars can be spent wisely and effectively.

They can see the results, and also witness the millions of American jobs being created. Infrastructure spending was a big part of FDR’s response to the Great Depression, and President Eisenhower’s interstate highway initiative of the 1950s helped bring our country closer together. Years ago, the Chicago architect Daniel Burnham wisely said “make no small plans, for they do not have the power to stir men’s souls.”  

The country’s needs are indeed great, and Secretary Clinton, as president, can address those needs, and make a transformational decisions, by following Daniel Burnham’s wisdom.

Dan Glickman is a former Congressman and Secretary of Agriculture and currently is a Senior Fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center.


 

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