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It's time to invest in America's future

It's time to invest in America's future
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During the financial meltdown in 2009, Rahm Emanuel famously declared, “Never allow a good crisis to go to waste. It's an opportunity…” The former Obama chief of staff and Chicago mayor suggests it's even more true in a worse crisis today.

First, Congress must approve trillions more in relief for businesses and for tens of millions of financially desperate Americans. But this too is an opportunity for longer term investments that would be central to restoring stability, safety and opportunities.

Infrastructure for one. For years, political paralysis has prevented fixing our eroding transportation systems. These deficiencies will cost the economy trillions over the decade — at a time we can ill afford it.

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More than one-third of bridges need major repairs or to be replaced, as do many roads. Buildings need retrofitting, and we need 21st century airports, mass transit systems and universal broadband. Governors and mayors can point to shovel-ready projects to get the economy moving.

For Trump, a job generator would be his one positive achievement during this crisis.

“Soon we will need to turn to recovery and providing jobs,” says Marsha Hale, chairman of Building America's Future, an infrastructure advocacy coalition. She told me, “Investments in transportation, broadband, buildings will seed economic improvements equivalent to (President) Eisenhower's foresight in building the Interstate highway system that ignited our economy.”

There is no bigger priority than the public health system. The severity of the coronavirus is a failure of policy — but even before that, America's health care equipment, supplies and testing capacity trailed countries like South Korea, Germany and Taiwan. The number of virus-related deaths in those countries is only a fraction of the U.S.

A vaccine will be found, and the virus will dissipate. But it's beyond stupid not to prepare for another one.

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This also means more personnel; Rahm Emanuel proposes a special program for "medical reservists" who could switch from their regular jobs when a health emergency hits.

An important element is the National Institutes of Health, the leader in researching diseases that make people more vulnerable to viruses and developing immunotherapies. Rather than cutting the NIH budget by 7 percent as Trump proposed this year, it should be doubled over the next five years like it was from 1998 to 2003, with impressive results and little waste.

The pandemic has further crystallized the pathetic state of child care in America; millions of middle- and working-class families will have to choose between their work or their kids: “We have had a broken caregiving system for over 50 years,” notes Melinda Gates, the co-chair of the Gates Foundation. “We're the only industrialized nation that doesn't think about caregiving and value it.”

For the poor, even with subsidies, decent child care often is impossible. For the middle- and upper middle-class, childcare can cost up to $20,000 per child — twice what it costs for a year in college at a public university. And more than a few current child care centers are of low quality.

Last year Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Memo: The center strikes back Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Democrats have turned solidly against gas tax MORE (D-Mass.) offered a plethora of expensive initiatives, some dubious. One that was not is her child care plan to create a network of federally funded, locally run child care centers with regulations. Free care would be provided any family who earns less than 200 percent of the poverty level, which now is about $26,000 for a family of four, and no one would pay more than 7 percent of their income for day care. The annual cost would be $70 billion.

Finally, enact an expanded national service. It long has been a good idea, championed by Republicans and Democrats alike; the need is even more pronounced now with what will be pandemic-related health care needs and the sluggish job market — the Congressional Budget Office projects unemployment will average 10.1 percent in 2021 — where young people, especially, will have trouble finding jobs for the foreseeable future.

The most substantive proposal is from Democratic Sens. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? MORE (D-Del.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocrats introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for government discrimination Zombie Tax punishes farmers to fill DC coffers Democrats face new pressure to raise taxes MORE (D-Md.): increase by ten-fold to 750,000 the number serving in Americorps, the domestic Peace Corps that helps with hard-pressed educational, environmental and health needs. It would cost $27 billion over three years.

The greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression requires some New Deal type thinking like Civil Conservation Corps (CCC).

The priority for would be the continuing challenges of the pandemic. Sen. Van Hollen told me, “There's a huge backlog of projects in the national parks, a need for more mentoring programs, helping expand broadband. This is the moment.”

The House needs to include this in its next stimulus package. So far in the Senate there only are Democratic sponsors… But national service was one of the late John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West Five takeaways from the Biden-Putin summit MORE's causes. Like much these days, in the era of Trump, let's hope a few Republicans will rise to the McCain level.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.