US Infrastructure: Is a Bipartisan Package Possible?
During his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump called for a bipartisan infrastructure package to improve the nation’s infrastructure and invest in the future. Indeed, infrastructure will probably be a non-starter in Congress unless a bipartisan coalition backing legislation can be forged.
That might seem impossible, given the prevailing attitudes in Washington. But two senators, Jim Inhofe, a Republican of Oklahoma and Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat of Rhode Island, writing in the Wall Street Journal, say “that it can, and will, happen.”
What gives them reason for hope? Both senators serve on the Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over most infrastructure bills, and which includes senators from across the political spectrum.
“Despite our differences,” the senators wrote, “the committee has produced some of the largest and most effective bipartisan legislation of the past decade, such as laws to spur transportation and water projects and to harmonize the regulation of toxic substances. Now we need to do it again.”
The Inhofe-Whitehouse approach is to have state and local leaders identify and select projects their communities need most. “There is no one-size-fits-all federal solution for infrastructure,” they argue. “Local communities know best what they need…”
They also believe that money should be designated for rural infrastructure, a feature included in the president’s recently-released infrastructure plan. Their reasoning: “The unique needs of rural communities often make it difficult for them to compete with urban ones for private financing or traditional funding.”
The senators would also pay special attention to coastal communities, as their infrastructure face challenges from contingencies like hurricanes and flooding. “Bond ratings account for these risks, meaning coastal cities and counties face higher costs to finance public projects,” they say. “A smart infrastructure plan would emphasize investment in coastal structures and systems, including the great ports that support jobs in fishing, shipping, and trucking.”
The senators would get money to cities and states by expanding existing programs, such as the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 1998—which focuses on highway building and road maintenance—by opening it up to other forms of infrastructure, including airports and inland waterways.
It’s a message worth hearing, but time is of the essence. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, waiting on making infrastructure investments now will cost the United States $3.9 trillion in GDP, $7 trillion in business sales, and 2.5 million American jobs by 2025.
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