WASHINGTON—Two men with a history of unabashed sparring sat together on Capitol Hill Wednesday to push the need for a strong transportation bill that helps America upgrade its lagging infrastructure.
Thomas J. Donahue, the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Richard Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), presented their cases for U.S. investment in infrastructure to a Senate committee. Senators generally agreed.
“We strongly agree…about the direct link between a strong transportation infrastructure and a strong economy,” Trumka said. “Strong federal investment in our transportation system has never been more important to support the economy and create and sustain good jobs for U.S. workers.”
At issue is reauthorizing and updating a jobs-creating transportation bill that aims to put the U.S. on track to match the rest of the world. Trains, tunnels, bridges, water lines and high-speed rail are among the basic pieces of infrastructure in need of major upgrades.
Noting he and Trumka were “the oddest couple since Felix and Oscar,” Donahue pressed lawmakers not to do better on infrastructure spending.
Donohue outlined a set of recommendations to include in the upgraded transportation bill:
- The bill’s “guiding star” must be safety.
- Ensure federal transportation policy, programs and resources are oriented around national needs.
- Adopt strategies and technologies that will reduce congestion, improve mobility in urban areas and maximize the use of existing assets.
- Help ensure rural connectivity.
- Reduce congestion.
- Maximize the use of existing infrastructure.
For every $1 billion invested in federal highways, accompanied by the state match, about 35,000 jobs are created, according to The Department of Transportation.
But America is not doing enough, the two adversaries agreed.
“We invest less than half of what Russia does in infrastructure as a percentage of GDP, less than one-third of what Western Europe does,” Trumka said.
Donohue and Trumka neared their normal state of disagreement, though, on how to fund the massive needs.
“There needs to be a vigorous dialogue on funding and financing,” Donahue said. “I am well aware of the fiscal constraints facing this Congress and the nation. But we must avoid cutting off our nose in spite of our face. Without proper investment and attention to our infrastructure, the United States’ economic stability, potential for job growth, global competitiveness, and quality of life are all at risk.”
President Barack Obama’s budget proposal includes an increase in transportation spending. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking member on the committee, faulted Obama for not specifying where the money going to transportation would come from, and he criticized the president’s previous spending on infrastructure.
Obama has spoken of an Infrastructure Bank to support development and Trumka mentioned a small financial speculation tax on Wall Street.
Donohue disagreed on the tax, saying the U.S. must find creative ways to fund changes without putting more burden on American business.
During the question and answer period Trumka and Donohue explained the importance of educating Americans on benefits that will come from an updated infrastructure, things such as growing jobs, achieving greater efficiency and putting the U.S. on par with the global economy. Both rural and urban areas need these updates because, in America, you can’t get from major city to major city without passing through vast rural landscapes, the two said.
As Obama mentioned in his State of the Union Address, and Trumka reiterated, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. a grade of “D” in overall infrastructure. “We want to revive the American Dream, so if you work hard and play by the rules you can succeed in America,” Trumka said.
Trumka and Donohue have agreed to discuss U.S. manufacturing. This hearing was one of a series as the Committee on Environment and Public Works continues its work towards authorizing the next transportation bill.