Mellman: Infrastructure week is past due

Mellman: Infrastructure week is past due
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To its discredit, the Trump administration has turned “infrastructure week” into a running joke, betraying both the president’s core constituency and the country at large.

The need is no joke. At last report, the professional American Society of Civil Engineers rated the nation’s infrastructure a D+, a grade in which no student, and no country, can take pride. 

What exactly is the problem?

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Most of the nation’s infrastructure was designed and built in the 1960s. Since then, our population has doubled, straining that infrastructure in a dramatic fashion, while the country has failed to invest in repairing and rebuilding it. 

Problems exist in both old and new technology.

The Department of Transportation found a quarter of our bridges are structurally deficient or not designed for the traffic they now carry.

Five years later, officials still aren’t sure Flint, Mich.’s water is safe to drink. Meanwhile, Flint-like problems are cropping up across the country. In some Milwaukee neighborhoods, for instance, one-third of kids 6 and under suffer from elevated lead levels, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) links to impaired school performance, increased juvenile delinquency as well as increased kidney damage and seizures.

At the other end of the technological spectrum, according to the World Economic Forum, the United States ranks 19th worldwide in broadband coverage. We pay more while getting slower speeds than Europeans.

While polls are sometimes murky and uncertain, in this arena they are clear and unequivocal: Americans understand the problems and want them fixed using our country’s products and workers.

A survey we conducted in March, with our colleagues at Public Opinion Strategies, for the Alliance for American Manufacturing, found the public ranked “repairing roads, bridges, water systems & critical infrastructure using American workers and products” as the top issue for the president and Congress to work on. 

Eighty-one percent said it was at least “very important” for Congress and the president to take on this issue, a sentiment extending across party lines with 83 percent of Democrats and 84 percent of Republicans sharing that view. 

That put infrastructure investment some 30 points ahead of issues like cutting taxes and regulations to help businesses compete and tightening border security. 

A Politico poll in December of 2018 found Americans placing a similarly high priority on this issue.

Safety hazards presented by outdated bridges and corroded water pipes were the most important reason to invest in infrastructure as far as voters in our poll were concerned.  

Americans recognize fixing these problems will cost money and they’re willing to spend it.

Polls have consistently found 70 percent — 87 percent favoring increased spending on infrastructure. 

But voters also express a clear demand for using that money to buy American products and employ American workers.

Eighty percent favor “requiring that all taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects use American-made goods and materials.” That includes 75 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of independents and 88 percent of Republicans.

Of course, it’s easy to make such statements in the abstract, but we presented respondents with a tougher choice asking whether they would prioritize buying American or buying cheap. 

Seventy-six percent said, “Infrastructure projects paid for with taxpayer money should be built by American workers, using American-made products.”

Just 17 percent believe, “Infrastructure projects paid for by taxpayer money should be built by the lowest bidder, regardless of where the low bidder is getting their products from.”

During his campaign, President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE promised “we’re going to rebuild our infrastructure” and has, at various times, vowed to spend up to $2 trillion to do so. 

He’s less than 1 percent of the way there.

Most voters wish Trump would abandon at least some of his campaign promises he made — like the border wall with Mexico and repealing health care. This one almost everybody wants him to keep.

He and the country would be better off if he did.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years and as president of the American Association of Political Consultants.