Why Congress should move on infrastructure this summer

Why Congress should move on infrastructure this summer
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There is one topic that consistently earns broad bipartisan support, even though the country is bitterly divided over many political issues. Because Americans can see how it benefits everyone, they support large-scale federal investments in infrastructure.

In a 2017 poll, as Congress was just starting its new session, showed how Washington could work to bring the country together while fulfilling one of President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE’s campaign promises. A Gallup poll found that 69 percent of Americans said it was “very important” for Trump to keep his promise to “enact a major spending program to strengthen infrastructure.” No other priority came close to having that much backing.

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Public support for infrastructure spending grew throughout the year. A September Harvard-Harris poll found that 84 percent of Americans said the country should invest more in infrastructure.

 

But this spring, news reports tell us that the infrastructure spending plan has stalled in Congress. If the year ends and nothing has been done to move forward on an ambitious plan of infrastructure investment, Americans are going to be deeply disappointed.

It is May, so Congress still has time to act. But time is running out. Even for popular measures such as investing in America’s transportation and energy infrastructure, it takes months to get comprehensive bills through Congress. If something is going to be done this year, now is the time to act.

There are reasons other than polls that should give Congress a sense of urgency. Though the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 4.1 percent, there are pockets of the population that are lagging behind. We won’t have done all we can for the American people until we address the needs of Americans who have been left behind in the 21st century economy. 

Men without a high school degree — the very people most likely to take construction jobs — have left the labor force in large numbers in the last two decades. From 2000 to 2015, the labor participation rate of men without a high school diploma fell by 10.4 percentage points, the largest gap of any group.In 2000, 86.7 percent of these men were in the labor force — by 2015, only 76.3 percent were.

A major infrastructure program would be more than an investment in our transportation and energy future. It would be an investment in our people. It would be an investment in men — and women — who have given up on finding meaningful work in America.

A comprehensive infrastructure package would attract many of these Americans back into the workforce and give them new opportunities to support themselves and their families.

Opportunity is what infrastructure investment is all about. That’s why so many Americans support it.

When the federal government puts Americans to work building roads and bridges, it does more than create high-paying construction jobs. It connects businesses to customers, cities to farms, students to colleges, families and friends to each other. When that infrastructure becomes old and outdated, it slows these connections and in turn slows the economy. 

To be clear, funding these large-scale upgrades in our nation’s infrastructure is no simple task. An overhaul of our roads, bridges, and water lines will require serious investment. And any comprehensive infrastructure legislation that does eventuate must be thoughtfully considered by our elected officials, with a pragmatic approach to the sourcing and allocation of funds. 

At the same time, private companies continue to invest in our nation’s infrastructure, resulting in many of the same benefits without the burden of awaiting action by Congress. Take, for example, America’s energy infrastructure network, which is continually expanded and updated by private investment.

These companies are making serious investments in our pipelines, export terminals, and related facilities — creating good paying construction jobs, generating millions of dollars in tax revenues for local communities, and ultimately safely transporting energy resources like oil and natural gas.

When the federal government opens more opportunities for the addition of new energy infrastructure, it does more than create new high-paying jobs in the industry, from drilling to pipe fitting to construction. It connects American industry and consumers to domestic sources of energy.

Increasing the availability of domestic energy helps keep prices low. It also helps us switch from foreign sources. The more energy independent we can be, the less vulnerable we are to overseas disruptions that might come from supply or transportation issues, political games, or wars that we have no business getting caught up in. 

The sooner Congress moves forward on these investments — investments that huge majorities of Americans want — the sooner Americans will begin to benefit from them.

There is no need to delay infrastructure investment until next year. The American people want it. The economy needs it. Our economic future depends on it. Congress should move now to pass a comprehensive infrastructure investment program. America is ready for it. Let’s do it. 

Albert Wynn is a former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing the 4th District of Maryland. He currently acts as a strategic adviser to the Grow America’s Infrastructure Now (GAIN) Coalition and is senior director at Greenberg Traurig.