Labor's Richard Trumka, Chamber's Tom Donohue appear together to plead for infrastructure spending
Two longtime adversaries appeared together at a Senate committee hearing Wednesday morning to deliver a message to Congress: invest more in America's infrastructure.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue were set to testify Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The appearance came weeks after the two leaders released a joint statement following President Obama's State of the Union address praising the president's call for greater infrastructure spending.
Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) tossed a coin to see who would speak first; Trumka, who had called heads, won. Both he and Donohue, who were sitting side-by-side at Wednesday's hearing, made light of the fact that their joint appearance was a rare one.
"The fact that Tom Donohue and I appear before you today does not mean that hell has frozen over or that unicorns are roaming the land," Trumka said, to laughter from the senators on the panel. He noted that he and Donohue "have agreed to sit down and talk about ways that we can help U.S. manufacturing."
Donohue - who noted that he and Trumka were "the oddest couple since Felix and Oscar" - urged lawmakers not to embrace the status quo on infrastructure spending. He emphasized that while there is disagreement on how to pay for infrastructure investments, such spending is essential to economic stability and job growth.
"There needs to be a vigorous dialogue on funding and financing, but first we have to agree on the direction in which we're going," Donohue said. "Everyone needs to keep an open mind. ... We've got to avoid cutting off our nose to spite our face."
President Obama's fiscal year 2012 budget proposal, announced on Monday, calls for $128 billion on transportation spending, a 68 percent increase over the projected spending for the current fiscal year. The $128 billion would be the first installment in a six-year, $556 billion plan that would also include $30 billion in spending on a new National Infrastructure Bank and $53 billion on high-speed and intercity rail.
High-speed rail is one area of infrastructure spending to which House Republicans remain opposed; their proposed resolution funding the federal government for the rest of the current fiscal year would cut $1 billion from high-speed rail compared to Obama's 2011 budget request.
Senators on the panel largely were in agreement Wednesday on the need for investment in national infrastructure.
"Election season comes soon enough, and now we have an obligation to set all that aside and work together for our people, for jobs and for our future," Boxer said.
Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the committee, noted that he and Boxer are on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum but agree on the need for infrastructure spending. He faulted Obama for not specifying how his $556 billion proposal would be paid for and criticized the administration's previous spending on infrastructure, noting that only three percent of the economic stimulus went to roads, construction and infrastructure.
"The money that's been out there is not being directed in the right places," Inhofe said.
Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders was one of several lawmakers on the panel who compared the U.S. to China, noting that America spends 2.4 percent of its GDP in infrastructure while China invests nearly four times that much, or 9 percent.
"We have situations where trains go from Location A to Location B in a slower time than they did fifty years ago," Sanders said. "We're moving backwards, and the Chinese are building dozens of high-speed rails."
Trumka and Donohue's testimony Wednesday echoed their joint statement after the State of the Union, in which they pushed for greater infrastructure spending as a means of creating new jobs and boosting America's global competitiveness.
"Whether it is building roads, bridges, high-speed broadband, energy systems and schools, these projects not only create jobs and demand for businesses, they are an investment in building the modern infrastructure our country needs to compete in a global economy," the January statement read.
| February 16, 2011; 11:18 AM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency
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