Where Is The Chamber’s Infrastructure Push?

Dave Johnson

The Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO promised a big infrastructure push. The AFL-CIO pushed, the Chamber backed off. Democrats and President Obama should embrace a big investment in jobs – and challenge the Republicans to support it. The American Majority wants it. It is a winning campaign issue.

Our country’s infrastructure – the soil in which businesses bloom and thrive – is literally crumbling. Experts say $2 trillion is needed just to catch up. While countries like Brazil, China the EU and India are investing hundreds of billions in modern, hi-tech high-speed rail and smart power grids and fiber optic broadband and so many other 21st-century projects we aren’t even maintaining our roads and power lines and 19th-century-based rail systems. And never mind our colleges and universities, we’re cutting back on those, too. Corporate conservatives object to any “government spending” so we don’t do it. It is no wonder that we are falling behind the rest of the world in economic competitiveness.

A while back the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce got together to push for the necessary infrastructure work the country needs. To the AFL-CIO is means jobs. To the Chamber’s membership it means increased competitiveness. One side – the AFL-CIO – has been keeping its side of the bargain and is pushing Congress hard to get this passed. The Chamber has not, so the Republicans — elected with Chamber money — are balking.

Brick Wall

Politico, Labor-Chamber alliance hits brick wall,

… the powerhouse duo has so far been unable to pierce the anti-spending mood hanging over Washington.

… The House Republicans’ push to cut spending puts much of the lobbying onus on the Chamber, whose advocates are working to convince their allies that transportation and infrastructure should be exempt from tighter spending controls.

… House Transportation Committee member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said the Chamber has never put hard pressure on GOP lawmakers and he blames it for helping to defeat Democrats friendly to the cause.

“The Chamber never put any juice behind it. They didn’t push the Republicans on the issue. In fact, as I said, they elected Republicans who are against investment … . And they opposed Democrats who were for more investment, like [former House Transportation Committee Chairman Jim] Oberstar and others, and defeated them,” DeFazio said. “It’s good lip service, but they haven’t delivered.”

The Chamber of Commerce is just about the most influential group in DC, especially when it comes to persuading Republicans — many of whom were elected with corporate money that passed through the Chamber. They promised an infrastructure push, where is it?

Majority Wants It

Polls show that the American Majority wants a big investment in jobs and infrastructure and restoring our position as #1 in manufacturing in the world. Democrats should call the Chamber’s bluff and publicly challenge Republicans to vote for or against an infrastructure/jobs/Make-It-In-America plan and if Republicans oppose it they should campaign for it in the coming election. There are millions of jobs that need doing to rebuild our infrastructure, and there are millions of people looking for work. Doing the right thing is the right thing politically. Democrats shouldn’t just say it couldn’t pass and give up – they should push for it and run on it.

Public Opinion Snapshot: Public Backs Infrastructure Investment, from the Center for American Progress, says,

Eighty percent declared themselves in agreement with President Barack Obama’s State of the Union call for a major effort to rebuild and modernize America’s infrastructure in a new Hart Research/Public Opinion Strategies survey for the Rockefeller Foundation.

Government Spending Bad

Corporate conservatives object to anything governemnt., For example, here is a columnist in the conservative Washington Examiner last week, calling for a halt to spending on federal infrastructure spending titled, If at first government fails, then spend, spend again,

Despite an $800 billion economic recovery stimulus package targeted at shovel-ready jobs, gross domestic product growth remains slow and unemployment high.

How strange, then, that Congress is considering additional funding for infrastructure in the form of a $10 billion infrastructure bank. The new entity, which would lend funds for transportation projects at low cost, has garnered an unusual array of bipartisan support.

… But that doesn’t make it a good idea. America needs more infrastructure development, but it should be provided by the private sector in collaboration with the states, not by the federal government.

Necessary

Rep. Jerry Nadler has a pro-infrastructure op-ed in Politico today, The necessity of infrastructure cash,

The single greatest challenge is to fund the investments that we so desperately need in the face of a Republican-sponsored hysteria for budget cutting that pays no regard to the consequences. Just last week, for instance, an Urban Land Institute study concluded that we need $2 trillion just to make basic repairs to our critical infrastructure.

[. . .] Every stage of American prosperity and growth has followed federal investment in infrastructure. From Henry Clay’s “American System” to Abraham Lincoln’s “Internal Improvements” and Trans-Continental Railroad to Dwight Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System, the federal government has financed the nation’s major infrastructure growth and enabled our economic development.

If America is to lead the world economy in the 21st century, it will require a modern infrastructure capable of promoting and sustaining economic growth. And it will be built not by happenstance but only through the leadership and investment of the federal government, as in the past.

If we choose not to make the investments necessary to lead the world, there will be no shortage of countries ready and willing to take our place.

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