Mar 07, 2019 - 3:15pm

More action, less talk needed from Congress on Infrastructure

Vice President and Head of Strategic Initiatives, Congressional & Public Affairs

Earlier this week, the House Ways and Means Committee held its first hearing in 8 years on aging infrastructure in the U.S. - an issue the U.S. Chamber and the business community could not be more serious about addressing.

Urgency is needed. The American Society of Engineers describes a desperate situation and says trillions needs to be spent in the next 6 years to fix our roads, bridges, dams and other types of crumbling infrastructure across the country.

It’s long past time to see concrete action coming out of Congress on this issue. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much of that from lawmakers Wednesday as U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue joined others testifying at a hearing on “Our Nation’s Crumbling Infrastructure and The Need for Immediate Action.”

Here are 4 other key takeaways from that discussion.

President Trump was missing. As President Donald Trump implored in his State of the Union address, rebuilding our infrastructure "is not an option. This is a necessity." But as the chief tax lobbyist who helped to get tax reform done last year, I can tell you that President Trump is going to have to take the lead in a way with infrastructure that he has, as yet declined to do. That must include finding ways to fund such a comprehensive effort. It is critical that the President continues to advocate for funding if we are going to get it this year. 

Infrastructure was not defined. The hearing was focused on highway funding, even though President Trump and congressional Democratic leaders have talked about a comprehensive infrastructure package that includes many other types of project.

Notes were taken. Unfortunately, the Ways and Means Committee appeared to double down on note taking rather than making bold statements with proposed follow-up action, which is what is needed right now.

We all see and experience the impact of aging infrastructure. It takes me an hour to commute about 10 miles from Northern Virginia into DC in the mornings and I usually hit at least one or two potholes along the way and cross a major bridge deeply affected by years of use. While Chamber CEO Tom Donohue has expressed exasperation over many years about the crumbling infrastructure we all see, he and the Chamber have been working on this issue.

In 2018, the Chamber offered a four-part plan to rebuild our country’s infrastructure, which includes a modest, 25-cent increase in the federal fuel fee, which would generate $375 billion over the next 10 years. Donohue reiterated to the panel that the Chamber still supports this plan although it is open to other ideas too. None of us can live off the paychecks we did in 1993 and our country’s roads, bridges and transit systems can’t either. 

Partisan Talking Points were polished off. Republicans said they wanted additional permitting reform that would allow projects to be approved and completed more rapidly. But it became clear that would be difficult for Democrats to support, since they felt they allowed a lot of such reform in the last highway bill almost five years ago. Democrats mentioned the need to include the threat of climate change in any bill and depending on what that means, it could slow the roll on an infrastructure package. 

We need both parties to work across the aisle right now to work through their differences and find real funding solutions but I’m not going to wait on Congress to come up with a plan and neither should you.

About the Author

About the Author

ashleywilson; ashleymiller
Vice President and Head of Strategic Initiatives, Congressional & Public Affairs

Ashley Wilson is a legislative strategist with deep knowledge of both politics and process, sharpened over a 20-year career in Washington, D.C. She earned her stripes on Capitol Hill, where she is well-known by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle for her ability to build bridges, navigate choppy political waters, and get the job done.