A Victory … and a Lesson

Oct 15, 2012

This year we’ve focused a lot on what’s ahead—among other things, November’s high-stakes election and the looming fiscal cliff in January. We won’t let up on the political pressure leading up to Election Day. And we’re going to keep pushing for a resolution to the fiscal cliff, followed by a big deal to address long-term fiscal challenges. But it’s worth taking a moment to look back at a hard-fought victory on a transportation bill earlier this year.

After nine stopgap measures—and just hours before a short-term extension would have lapsed and cost thousands of Americans their jobs—Congress passed and the president signed a bipartisan two-year bill to reauthorize highway, transit, and safety programs and funding. While we would have preferred a longer-term bill with greater funding, this was a major step in the right direction.

The final bill, MAP-21, contained a number of reforms long supported and fought for by the U.S. Chamber. It consolidates overlapping and duplicative federal programs. It streamlines the project delivery process to save limited taxpayer dollars. It gives states flexibility to target federal funds where they are needed most. And it expands opportunities for public-private partnerships and private investment.

Now, state and local governments can get projects moving again. Contractors and construction companies can start hiring again. And thousands of Americans can get back to work rebuilding our crumbling highways and bridges and restoring our economic competitiveness.

But big challenges remain: reducing waste while speeding projects; sharply boosting private investment in public infrastructure; and devising a predictable, sustainable, and growing source of dedicated, user fee-based funding to ensure that the federal government is still a partner in supporting interstate commerce and international competitiveness.

By looking back at the transportation bill victory and keeping ongoing infrastructure needs in mind, lawmakers should be reminded that there is real work to be done in Congress. It’s almost impossible for us to focus on it when we’re consumed by self-inflicted crises, such as the fiscal cliff. And it’s hard for us to make long-term investments in areas where the government does play a role, like maintaining a competitive national infrastructure system, when our budgets are consumed by unsustainable entitlement spending.

We should also remember that we can get hard things done when we roll up our sleeves, meet at the negotiating table, and set our minds to doing what’s right for our country and our economy. Let’s take that lesson and apply it to the significant challenges that lie ahead.

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