Coalition of business and labor spurs Congress to OK transportation funds

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WASHINGTON — With both the leg­is­la­tive cal­en­dar and the high­way trust fund nearly ex­hausted, a broad co­a­li­tion of busi­ness groups and la­bor unions will push this week to shake Con­gress from its sta­sis so law­mak­ers can ap­prove fed­eral in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing be­fore trans­por­ta­tion proj­ects be­gin to dry up in Au­gust.

Fierce re­sis­tance from con­ser­va­tive Re­pub­li­cans to re­plen­ish­ing the high­way trust fund and re­au­tho­riz­ing the fed­eral Ex­port-Im­port Bank has yielded rare pub­lic laments from busi­ness lead­ers about the state of pol­i­tics — es­pe­cially in the Re­pub­li­can Party, where Tea Party-fu­eled pop­u­lism has un­der­mined the party’s long­time sup­port for busi­ness.

Busi­ness lead­ers said in­ac­tion by Con­gress could im­peril the eco­nomic re­cov­ery just as jobs are in­creas­ing at a rate that could pres­age a pe­riod of sus­tained growth.

Jay Tim­mons, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Man­u­fac­tur­ers, said busi­ness fe­alty to Re­pub­li­can pol­i­tics al­lowed the pro-busi­ness wing of the Demo­cratic Party to whither, a move­ment that now threat­ens pro-busi­ness Re­pub­li­cans.

“Sadly, we ac­cepted their losses, and as a re­sult, busi­ness be­came re­li­ant on the be­nev­o­lence of just one party,” Mr. Tim­mons, a Re­pub­li­can, said in a speech last month. “Now to­day, there are fringe el­e­ments who are us­ing in­tol­er­ant so­cial pro­pa­ganda and dis­tort­ing the records of hon­or­able men and women, driv­ing them into the wil­der­ness of de­feat,” point­ing to the sur­prise GOP pri­mary de­feat of House Ma­jor­ity Leader Eric Can­tor, R-Va.

Tho­mas Dono­hue, pres­i­dent of the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce, begged Con­gress to ap­prove the first in­crease in the fed­eral gas tax since 1993, al­though he con­ceded that cour­age “seems in short sup­ply in Wash­ing­ton.” In a speech in May, he said: “Ship­pers are for it. Truck­ers are for it. The con­struc­tion in­dus­try is for it. La­bor is for it, and the cham­ber is for it. And if Con­gress were se­ri­ous about en­sur­ing money goes to the most es­sen­tial proj­ects, many mo­tor­ists would be for it, too.”

Ned Mon­roe, the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Man­u­fac­tur­ers se­nior vice pres­i­dent for ex­ter­nal re­la­tions, said busi­ness groups like his, the Build­ing Amer­ica’s Fu­ture co­a­li­tion, and la­bor unions will be­gin a mul­ti­pronged ad­vo­cacy ef­fort this week.

Over the week­end, Build­ing Amer­ica’s Fu­ture launched a smart­phone app, “I’m Stuck,” with the U.S. Travel As­so­ci­a­tion, which al­lows us­ers to email their mem­ber of Con­gress dur­ing a traf­fic jam, sub­way or air­port de­lay or packed tran­sit ride to re­port on their prog­ress — or lack thereof, with a pic­ture if they want.

The La­bor­ers’ In­ter­na­tional Union of North Amer­ica started a road show last week, com­plete with bill­boards and a school bus adorned with part of a crum­bled bridge on its hood. Ad­ver­tis­ing, lob­by­ing on Cap­i­tol Hill and pres­sure at home from con­struc­tion firms and union mem­bers are to fol­low.

A trio of is­sues has tested busi­ness tol­er­ance. Just 16 days re­main on the House’s leg­is­la­tive cal­en­dar be­fore a five-week sum­mer re­cess, and if noth­ing is done in that time, fed­eral high­way fund­ing will be slashed 28 per­cent on Aug. 1, at the height of the sum­mer con­struc­tion sea­son.

The Ex­port-Im­port Bank, which guar­an­tees loans to for­eign pur­chas­ers of U.S. ex­ports, will have to close its doors by the end of Sep­tem­ber if Con­gress does not re­au­tho­rize it.

Between those two items, hun­dreds of thou­sands of jobs are at risk, busi­ness ad­vo­cates say; al­most 700,000 de­pend on the high­way fund alone. And those two is­sues come on top of busi­ness’ fail­ure to get House Re­pub­li­cans to move for­ward on an over­haul of the na­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion laws.

“Ev­ery­one talks about mid­dle-class jobs, but no one does any­thing to ac­tu­ally gen­er­ate them,” said for­mer Penn­syl­va­nia Gov. Ed Rendell, a Dem­o­crat who is co-chair­man of Build­ing Amer­ica’s Fu­ture, along with for­mer New York City Mayor Mi­chael Bloomberg and for­mer Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion Trans­por­ta­tion Sec­re­tary Ray LaHood, who pre­vi­ously was a Re­pub­li­can House mem­ber from Il­li­nois.

Con­ser­va­tives, how­ever, see a rare mo­ment of le­ver­age, when the po­lit­i­cal bat­tles be­tween the Re­pub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment and Tea Party wing shift to ac­tual pol­icy fights. Some con­ser­va­tives be­lieve that re­spon­si­bil­ity for road and bridge con­struc­tion should de­volve to state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments, and they ar­gue that the loom­ing cut to trans­por­ta­tion spend­ing is ex­ag­ger­ated. Be­cause Wash­ing­ton funds about a quar­ter of road and tran­sit spend­ing, a 28 per­cent cut to the fed­eral share is a 7 per­cent re­duc­tion to spend­ing over­all.

And they see the Ex­port-Im­port Bank as cor­po­rate wel­fare, fa­cil­i­tat­ing sales for some of the larg­est com­pa­nies in the world, such as Boe­ing and Ca­t­er­pil­lar.

“We hear a lot from pow­er­ful voices on [Wash­ing­ton‘‍s lob­by­ing head­quar­ters on] K Street and Wall Street about the bank, but we also should lis­ten to voices from Main Street,” said House Finan­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee chair­man Jeb Hen­sar­ling, R-Texas, who wants the bank to die.

Re­pub­li­can vot­ers are send­ing law­mak­ers a mes­sage. Mr. Can­tor backed both some eas­ing of im­mi­gra­tion law and a re­au­tho­ri­za­tion of the Ex­port-Im­port Bank. His suc­ces­sor as Re­pub­li­can House leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Cal­i­for­nia, has said he will op­pose the bank’s re­au­tho­ri­za­tion.

Lead­ers in both par­ties have all but given up reach­ing a multi­year deal to fund trans­por­ta­tion pro­grams. Nego­ti­a­tors met through last week and on Mon­day to find the $9 bil­lion needed to get the trust fund through the end of the year, or as much as $12 bil­lion to fund proj­ects through the spring.

Be­sides Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Chris­to­pher Mur­phy, D-Conn., and Rep. Earl Blu­men­auer, D-Ore., vir­tu­ally no one has been will­ing to en­ter­tain an in­crease in the gas tax or a new tax on miles driven. In­stead, the fo­cus has been on tweaks to pri­vate pen­sion rules and tak­ing money from a trust fund for leak­ing un­der­ground stor­age tanks. “Ev­ery­body other than Mur­phy, Corker and Blu­men­auer thinks money is go­ing to fall from the sky to pay for high­ways,” said Bruce Jos­ten, the cham­ber’s long­time chief lob­by­ist.

United States - North America - United States government - United States Congress - U.S. Republican Party - Edward Rendell - Michael Bloomberg - Ray LaHood - United States House of Representatives - Bob Corker - Chris Murphy - United States Chamber of Commerce - National Association of Manufacturers - Eric Cantor - Kevin McCarthy - Jeb Hensarling - Earl Blumenauer


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