Chamber Promotes Public Works Investment Before Trump Speech

(Bloomberg) -- As President Donald Trump prepares to call on Congress for “substantial investment” to upgrade U.S. public works, the largest American business lobby is making the case that the time is now.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is holding an infrastructure summit on Tuesday before Trump’s State of the Union address, outlining the cost to companies and the economy of failing to act, as well as possible ways to pay for improvements.

“Infrastructure is a prime opportunity for our leaders to get back to the nation’s business,” Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Donohue said in prepared remarks. “In the aftermath of the longest government shutdown in history, Republicans and Democrats alike would be smart to show the American people that they can still get things done, and that they are willing to reach across the aisle to do what’s right for our country.”

  • Trump campaigned on a promise to invest $1 trillion to upgrade U.S. roads, bridges, airports and other public works, and in last year’s State of the Union address, he called on Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for new investment.
  • But the legislative outline Trump released last February languished in Congress after it called for allocating $200 billion in federal funds over a decade -- mostly to spur states and local entities to spend the balance of the proposed $1.5 trillion -– without a defined funding source.
  • One of the five main areas in Trump’s speech will be asking Congress to produce an infrastructure package that delivers “substantial investments’’ in vital projects, according to a White House official who briefed reporters on Friday.
  • Last year, the chamber released a four-pillar plan that included increasing federal fuel taxes – which have not been raised since 1993 – by 25 cents a gallon over five years. Lawmakers said Trump was willing to support such an increase privately last year but never backed it publicly.
  • Donahue has said the group is open to other ideas and held a contest with a $25,000 prize for viable long-term funding options. The chamber has received more than 80 proposals, including a national sales tax. The winners are to be revealed on April 30.
  • Tuesday’s summit features panels on infrastructure financing options, including a system for charging a fee for each mile traveled as an alternative to fuel taxes. The purchasing power of fuel levies has declined with inflation, and the increasing number of electric vehicles on the road.
  • Among the speakers calling for bolder action is Rich McArdle, president of UPS Freight Services Inc. Donohue has also said the chamber is changing its scorecard for evaluating lawmakers to consider bipartisanship.
  • Representative Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat and the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, will be among the speakers. He has said he wants to pass a package of infrastructure measures in the coming months. The committee’s first hearing is Thursday and has the title “The Cost of Doing Nothing: Why Investing in Our Nation’s Infrastructure Cannot Wait.’’
  • Representative Sam Graves of Missouri, the top Republican on the committee, has said he hopes Trump emphasizes infrastructure investment in the State of the Union to show he’s behind it. Passing any significant package with “real” funding will require presidential leadership, DeFazio has said.

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