An Opportunity to Put Growth Ahead of Political Theater

An Opportunity to Put Growth Ahead of Political Theater
AP Photo/John Minchillo

The circus out of Washington in recent months hasn’t given voters much confidence. Only one in five Americans believe their representatives see eye-to-eye with them, and approval ratings for Congress and the White House remain at historic lows.

While partisan gridlock has given voters every reason to write off their elected officials as another “do-nothing” Congress, it is not too late for Capitol Hill to redeem itself. And that could very well begin with the leadership from the White House.

In June, President Trump unveiled a plan to invest $1 trillion to begin rebuilding the United States’ aging infrastructure. An olive branch of sorts, the president’s plan has many of the hallmarks of the kind of infrastructure spending package Democrats have been urging for years. It is incumbent on members of both parties to shake off ideological dogma, take up Mr. Trump’s offer, and begin delivering results for their constituents. 

The American people are hungry for the jobs and economic growth a serious investment back into the country’s physical resources could provide. Rebuilding and repairing our roads, bridges, airports, water systems, and energy networks — to name only a few — will not only increase productivity; it will also create immediate, good-paying jobs. This comes at a critical time. U.S. infrastructure ranks eleventh among developed countries, trailing competitors like Germany and Japan, according to the World Economic Forum

Already, infrastructure development led by the business community is catalyzing economic opportunity and job creation. Nowhere is that growth more evident than in the energy sector. Take, for example, the Rover Pipeline in Ohio. The project has created nearly 10,000 construction jobs and even greater demand in support industries. More than three-quarters of the materials are proudly made here in the United States.

At the same time, the Rover Pipeline — and many energy investments like it — are creating reliable access to affordable, American-produced energy. These projects are helping to alleviate dependence on foreign suppliers and better protect communities and the environment. They have propelled the remarkable resurgence of domestic oil and natural gas, better positionining U.S. leaders to address climate change on the global stage. 

In light of heightening geopolitical tensions, domestic production of energy resources is now more important than ever. Energy markets are becoming increasingly unstable, as evidenced by recent uncertainties over international relations with Qatar, one of the world’s largest suppliers of natural gas, and mounting opposition to Russian gas projects such as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. By bolstering our own supplies of oil and natural gas, the U.S. can not only insulate our consumers from that instability, but also provide key allies around the globe with an alternative to controversial or unreliable energy sources. 

President Trump’s plan emphasizes public-private collaboration. As much as 80 percent of the proposed $1 trillion in spending will come from business investment. As Gary Cohen, head of the White House’s National Economic Council, explained recently: “We want to be in the facilitation business, and we’re willing to provide capital wherever necessary to help certain infrastructure along.” That’s the right tack, and it’s exactly what many Democratic leaders have long advocated. Partnerships with the private sector make projects safer, reduce costs, and introduce new technologies and best practices that safeguard the environment and our neighborhoods. 

Here again, public leaders should consider the energy industry. Over the past decade private investment in oil and natural gas pipelines has steadily increased, more than doubling from $36 billion in 2007 to $68 billion in 2013. In the same way, the energy industry’s involvement has helped bring new technologies to market that make consumption more efficient. America’s carbon emissions have steadily fallen over the past twenty years, even while energy usage has increased. Today, ozone levels have been reduced to levels not seen since the 1980s.  

They say all politics is local. So it goes with infrastructure investment. Communities need to have honest conversations that deal in realities, not hypotheticals. Voters should consider each project on its merits, and hold their leaders — both public and private — accountable. The benefits these initiatives could deliver are too important to be subject to speculation, innuendo, or rigid adherence to party doctrine. 

President Trump’s infrastructure plan is not perfect. And there’s a lot of work left to get it to a place that satisfies both Democrats and Republicans. Most importantly, the plan would begin the work necessary to repair and build the systems that make our country run — and create economic growth in the process.  

Now is the time for Democrats and Republicans to put aside theatrics and deliver an infrastructure package their constituents need.

Albert Wynn, a former Democratic member of the U.S House of Representatives representing the 4th district of Maryland, served on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He currently acts as a strategic advisor to the Grow America’s Infrastructure Now (GAIN) Coalition.

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