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U.S. Chamber: Fixing infrastructure could 'turbo-charge' economy

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other lawmakers are set to meet with President Trump at the White House on Tuesday to talk about infrastructure.

Since Democratic lawmakers took control of the House in January, both parties have pointed to infrastructure as an issue on which a divided Congress could find common ground.

“This bipartisanship is a reflection of the American people’s recognition of the need to rebuild our infrastructure to promote commerce, create jobs, advance public health with clean air and clean water, and make our transportation systems safer — indeed, to improve the quality of life of all Americans,” said Pelosi and Schumer in a letter to the president.

In his 2018 State of the Union address, Trump called on Congress to put $200 billion toward infrastructure over 10 years. He said the plan would spur $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment — including state, local and private funding.

The White House held several “infrastructure weeks,” but the Republican Congress never took up the president’s plan.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said the president wants a bipartisan infrastructure package “that rebuilds crumbling infrastructure, invests in the projects and industries of tomorrow, and promotes permitting efficiency.”

Pelosi and Schumer outlined their priorities in a letter to the president on Monday:

  • America’s unmet infrastructure needs are massive, and a bipartisan infrastructure package must meet those needs with substantial, new and real revenue.

  • A big and bold infrastructure package must be comprehensive and include clean energy and resiliency priorities.

  • A big and bold infrastructure plan must have strong Buy America, labor, and women, veteran and minority-owned business protections in any package.

Business groups are urging lawmakers and the Trump administration to fix the nation’s infrastructure. In a statement, the Business Roundtable said it was encouraged by the meeting.

“Policymakers should focus on shoring up public trust funds, unlocking and incentivizing private investment, and streamlining permitting processes for infrastructure project approvals. A solution for infrastructure should enhance, not weaken, policies that have contributed to strong, sustained economic growth. Democrats and Republicans should take advantage of this opportunity to deliver for American commuters, workers and families,” said Mike Burke, Chairman and CEO of AECOM and Chair of the Business Roundtable Infrastructure Committee.

A Business Roundtable study found every additional $1 invested in infrastructure would drive roughly $3.70 in economic growth over 20 years.

“I think it could help turbo-charge the economy,” said Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Bradley told Yahoo Finance he thinks the meeting on Tuesday has the potential to be “historic.”

“We haven't modernized our infrastructure system and had the finances to do it in over 25 years,” said Bradley.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the United States’ infrastructure a D+ grade.

Bradley said small businesses often feel the worst effects of deteriorating infrastructure.

Graphic by David Foster/Yahoo Finance

“The number of jobs that that plumber or any other service provider can do on any given day is really impacted by how much time they have to spend in traffic. And, and that's one of the saddest aspects of it — is people's livelihood. We're actually taking jobs away from folks,” he said.

And it’s not just roads and bridges that need upgrades.

“It’s also our telecommunication systems and broadband that need to be improved. But it's also ports, airports, all of which frankly, are kind of lagging in the investments that we need to make,” said Bradley.

What small-business owners think

A recent MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index survey found 64% of small-business owners said high-speed internet was “very important” to the success of their business, while 57% said roads and bridges were “very important.”

“Most American small businesses see local transportation infrastructure as merely average or poor, while about half of businesses worry that U.S. infrastructure is not keeping up with technological advancement in competing nations,” said the survey.

While both parties agree on the need to address infrastructure, they often differ on how to pay for it.

“That's really been the logjam between the two parties for the better part of two decades now,” said Bradley.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the AFL-CIO recommend raising the gas tax to pay for infrastructure improvements, though the idea has not been popular on Capitol Hill.

On the Senate floor Monday afternoon, Schumer said there are several ways to pay for an infrastructure bill. The Democratic leader said reversing “the most egregious giveaways” and raising the corporate tax rate “a smidge” would pay for a $1T infrastructure bill.

To sell the idea of an infrastructure bill, lawmakers often tout the number of jobs it could create. But Bradley notes if Congress passes an infrastructure package, the question will be finding enough workers to actually build the projects.

“That's a good problem to have. I'd rather have that problem than the alternative,” he said. “These construction jobs are good jobs, they're well-paying jobs and there's a lot of work to be done. So there's a lot of certainty kind of in that career trajectory. So we have to help people get the right skills. We have to let them know about these jobs and there's a lot of work that can be done there.”

Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.

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