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One week removed from the year's busiest shopping weekend, Congress and the White House have served up a monumental 2-for-1 deal for the U.S. business community.
President Barack Obama on Friday signed a single piece of legislation that both replenished the nearly depleted federal fund for transportation projects across the country and reauthorized the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), which had been without the authority to support U.S. exporters for five months. Obama’s signature came 24 hours after the House and Senate came together to finalize and pass the legislation.
In addition, the deal includes provisions that are meant to speed up the review and approval of permitting for significant infrastructure and manufacturing projects, which is expected to spur investment, development and overall growth of the economy.
On the transportation front, the deal took shape in the nick of time; in fact, on the same day the federal Highway Trust Fund (the source of funding for the majority of road, bridge and highway repair projects around the country) was scheduled to run dry. After multiple months-long patches in recent years, this latest agreement will provide enough funds to keep the fund solvent for five years.
“This five-year reauthorization for our nation’s federal transportation infrastructure will enhance our global competitiveness and enable business to plan for the future, creating jobs and strengthening the economy,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue said on Thursday. “This bill also gives Congress time to discuss longer-term solutions for providing consistent funding for the Highway Trust Fund without the looming threat of another short-term extension deadline.”
For Ex-Im, it's a matter of better late than never. In a crippling political maneuver, Congress allowed the bank's charter to expire at the end of the July, leaving the tens of thousands of companies (most of them small businesses) that depend on the bank’s lending and insurance services in a very tight spot. It may never be known how many international sales - and with them, jobs back home - were lost as a result of Ex-Im's five-month hiatus. But anecdotal evidence suggests the impact was significant.
“In recent weeks, we’ve seen how American companies are forced to operate at a unique disadvantage in global markets without Ex-Im, resulting in lost sales and lost jobs,” Donohue said. “We applaud the determined work of those Congressional leaders who have acted to protect the competitiveness of American companies.”
What’s important now is that our lawmakers remember the unnecessary damage that was caused - the roadwork that was left in limbo, the small businesses that missed out on international sales, and the new jobs that weren’t created in both cases - because Congress took so long to take action on two vital economic issues.
In other words, what’s important is that we don’t let this happen again.