I have a habit of predicting to my clients that every time there is a new Administration, we will surely have a federal infrastructure bill passed in the new Presidents’ first year. I have said this at the beginning of the George W. Bush Administration, the Obama Administration, the Trump Administration, and today. I am once again predicting that it can and should happen now. I can assure you that all of the top lobbying firms in Washington would agree.
There have been reasons that it has not happened in the past, but not particularly good ones. For President Bush, 9-11 changed the trajectory of his Presidency early on. However, that should not have precluded him from making a substantial investment in our federal highways and bridges later in his term.
President Obama’s stimulus package spent billions to pull us out of recession. However, infrastructure investment was barely a drop in the bucket. The Trump administration also declined to prioritize a federal investment in infrastructure early on. The pandemic in his final year in office eclipsed every priority.
As President Biden starts his term in office, leading our nation out of the COVID-19 crisis is his obvious priority. However, the number #2 priority is rebuilding the economy. What better way of accomplishing that mission than passing a major highway bill?
Over the span of my career, which I now count in decades, both Congress and the Executive Branch have continued to kick this can down the road. All the while, the burden continues to fall on our nation’s Governors and legislative leaders to fill the gap.
During Governor Ridge’s service in Pennsylvania, we led a bipartisan effort, supported by Pennsylvania’s top lobbyists, to increase the gas tax. With support from both sides of the aisle, we were successful, and the results were fantastic. Legislators love new highway construction in their rural districts and our urban members received mass transit support.
Governor Ridge and our team didn’t stop there. We also led the effort to build four new stadiums, the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, and provide hard dollars to help our libraries and cultural institutions. Following this leadership, Governors Rendell, Corbett, and now Governor Wolf hailed P-3 initiatives. But states have pushed their highway taxes to the limit and federal investment has fallen flat for decades.
This a perfect initiative for President Biden. As previously mentioned, it is a great way to re-stimulate our economy. In addition, as our new President is calling for bi-partisanship, this is an ideal way to bring both Republicans and Democrats together.
I’m encouraged to see that President Biden this week met with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to discuss the need for an infrastructure package and start planning the process. Everyone sees the need for updated transportation systems and infrastructure more broadly.
The President is also prioritizing the environment, and this could be an outstanding vehicle for green initiatives. I would start with electrification infrastructure and new tax incentives for the cars and trucks of the future. We lobby in Pennsylvania and Washington for the carbon free nuclear industry, which could use help moving to the next generation of clean nuclear power.
When we talk about infrastructure, we also shouldn’t forget about our economic development entities. Funding for research parks and the hard buildings we need to support economic growth is necessary. As a bonus, we could also bring earmarks back to pass a bill that would benefit every congressional district. This would open the way to pass even tougher measures like immigration reform.
So here I go again, at the onset of the Biden, predicting passage of an infrastructure once again. As hope springs enteral, I really hope I am correct this time. I don’t wish this just to be a bonanza for the top lobbying firms in DC. Although, we are helping our clients at the Ridge Policy Group to have their priorities included should the opportunity arise.
The reality is that the federal government has woefully fallen behind our international competitors investing in infrastructure, which affects nearly every segment of our society. It is not just about roads and bridges, its telecommunications, broadband, and the greening of our vehicles, and public buildings.
Enough is enough. President Biden, please prove me right.
This post was written for Ridge Policy Group, a top government affairs firm, by Mark Holman. Mark founded the firm in 2010 with partners Gov. Tom Ridge and Mark Campbell.