This is the second in what we plan as a series of posts on what the Administration and Congress may do to address the nation’s ailing infrastructure.
Over the last week, we have seen a sudden spurt of activity in Congress on infrastructure.
On February 1st, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee convened its first full Committee hearing for the 115th Congress, titled “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America”. The hearing marked this Congress’ first initiative to discuss its overall vision for improving America’s infrastructure, and had a panel of executives from some of the country’s largest companies and organizations, including FedEx, Cargill, and AFL-CIO, weigh in on the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Chairman Shuster remarked,
“America’s infrastructure is the backbone of our economy, and we must invest to meet the challenges of today while preparing for the opportunities of tomorrow.”
A few days later, the House Committee inaugurated an informational campaign on Twitter, #building21, designed to communicate the Committee’s “vision for America’s infrastructure that promotes job creation, encourages economic development, and prepares the Nation for the breakthroughs in mobility that are around the corner.” Along with this the Committee launched a website for the campaign, “which will focus attention on policies that will build a 21st century infrastructure.”
Finally, on February 8th, the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works followed suit and held its own hearing on infrastructure, “Oversight: Modernizing our Nation’s Infrastructure”.
It is heartening to see that Congress and, presumably, the Administration cares about our country’s infrastructure enough to put in the effort to hold a hearing early in the term. The panelists at both the House and Senate hearing indicated that America was at a crossroads, and that now was the time for decisive action. The hearings and the informational campaign were intended to suggest that Congress and the White House are aware of the enormous responsibility placed on their shoulders to restore our country’s ailing infrastructure.
But for all their fanfare, hearings will not fix gaping problems in our highways and informational campaigns will not protect us from the catastrophic effects of sea level rise. Political commitment, financial investment, and smart, long-term planning will. Like all of us, I will be paying attention to what Congress and the White House are saying about infrastructure. But I will be more focused on what Congress and the White House are doing.
Over the next few months I will be looking out for the following three things here which I believe that if done, indicate a level of seriousness to rebuilding America’s infrastructure.
1. Passage by April 28th (the date the temporary funding measure runs out) of a budget for the current fiscal year. If Congress isn’t serious about passing a budget for a fiscal year that is already half over, then it will never be able to put up the federal money that will inevitably have to be a large part of any national infrastructure plan.
2. A bipartisan White House, congressional commission whose purpose is to bring together business, state and local government, academic, and nonprofit leaders to recommend both a plan to renew the nation’s infrastructure and the means to pay for it. If our leaders are really serious about making America’s infrastructure a priority, nothing less than a bipartisan commission with a mandate and a deadline to produce a plan composed of members from both branches of government so that it has the backing to get implemented
3. A down payment in the budget for next year of at least a billion dollars on repairing existing infrastructure. Admittedly this is a Band-Aid, since
throwing money (public or private) at existing projects is nothing more than another stimulus program. But politicians need to issue press releases and the public needs to see good faith. This is a good way to meet both needs.
Some may say that the prospect of any of the above three happening is unlikely. While each of the above three is important in its own right, there is an entire collection of actions of varying impact that Congress and the Administration can take if they are truly committed to revitalizing our country’s infrastructure. If these three are too ambitious (which they are not) I hope we will at least see others that will show equal commitment.