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Congress has a rare opportunity on its hands, with lawmakers from the House and Senate on the verge of finalizing one piece of legislation that could have two distinct but similarly important benefits for the nation’s business community.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives approved the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform (STRR) Act, which would provide six years of funding to improve our country’s transportation infrastructure, including roads, bridges and public transportation systems. Similar legislation already passed with bipartisan support in the Senate, and the proposal represents a big step forward for Congress, which has kicked the can down the road with short-term funding patches 35 times in recent years.
“A robust and well maintained transportation infrastructure system is the backbone of the American economy,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue said in a statement. “The vote in the House today recognized what the Chamber has long been saying – that another short term extension to the Highway Trust Fund just won’t cut it.”
In the absence of a long-term funding solution, one third of our nation’s roads and highways have fallen into disrepair, and one in every nine bridges has been deemed structurally deficient. Our nation’s businesses depend on that critical infrastructure to help them move products around the country, to get their employees to work every day, and to help their customers drive to and from their storefronts.
“Safe, efficient highways and transit means that we spend less time in traffic,” Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Penn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wrote in a column published by FOX News on Wednesday. “It also means transportation costs for goods and services remain lower, our businesses are more competitive, and more jobs are created throughout the economy.”
In a key vote letter sent to the House this week, Bruce Josten, the U.S. Chamber’s Executive Vice President for Government Affairs, added that “the time for Congress to address this issue is long overdue.” Josten also noted that the House and Senate will need to come together to resolve the small variations in their two measures “before the latest short term transportation bill extension expires on November 20.”
It’s not merely transportation funding that hangs in the balance. After the Senate and House voted to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) by wide margins in July and October, respectively, lawmakers added that proposal to the transportation funding bill. Thus, STTR’s passage would reinstate critical resources that thousands of American businesses have depended on for decades to help them sell to customers overseas.
Ex-Im’s support, Josten pointed out in the key vote letter, “has been especially important to small and medium-sized businesses, which account for nearly 90 percent of the bank’s transactions.” Josten also noted that “not only has Ex-Im directly supported American jobs, it operates at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer.”
Congress’s inaction led Ex-Im’s charter to lapse at the end of June. Since then, “American companies have been operating at a unique disadvantage in global markets, and lost sales and lost jobs are accumulating,” Josten wrote. They will continue to be at a disadvantage until their representatives in Washington reauthorize the bank.
So, time is of the essence for Congress. With every day that passes, our country’s infrastructure falls deeper disrepair, and our nation’s exporters more of their global sales gobbled up by foreign competitors. Congress has an opportunity to solve both of those problems with one bill, and the business community can only hope lawmakers send that bill to the president as soon as possible.
Or, as Donohue put it: "We can't afford to hit any potholes in the process to get it done."