If the unfolding economic pain caused by COVID-19 didn’t cause businesses to board up, construction projects to halt and despair to settle upon the collective bones of our body politic, some of the protests-turned-riots, from Santa Monica to Manhattan, certainly did the trick. So, this week, as we sweep up broken glass and restock merchandise, and as various states shift from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of reopening plans, the moment enjoins us to ask, “well, what now?” Our answer: Build, baby, build.
We mean this, of course, in a dual sense. First, we need to rebuild — and sometimes build altogether new — relationships with one another. We need to rebuild trust and confidence in our state and local government. We need to rebuild confidence in our media. And it probably wouldn’t hurt (but this is a conversation for another day) to rebuild our faith in God.
The point is, enough has been torn down and torn apart.
Closely tied, however, to any successful effort to reassemble the social contract better and stronger than before, is the very real need for America to build tangible things at the moment. This is the stuff of brick and mortar, of highways, roads and bridges that connect us. A robust and stable infrastructure sets the conditions that allow human relationships to flourish. Put another way, if you want to get a sense of the condition of America’s soul, take a look at construction activity.
At the moment, construction jobs are at a nadir. Unemployment is around 13%, the highest it’s been in nearly 10 years. Jobs recently saw a small rebound, thanks in part in the Paycheck Protection Program, but the industry fears these gains will be short-lived without Congress and the administration getting serious about injecting funds for infrastructure projects that bring long-term benefits. And at the end of the day, it must be the federal government that gets serious about any economic injections. The private sector and state and local governments simply don’t have the resources at present.
Frankly, what America needs now is a shift — real action, not rhetoric! — on the part of the federal government toward an “I like Ike” mentality. The Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II and America’s 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vision-turned-reality of building the more than 40,000-mile interstate highway system spurred job creation and economic growth after America’s debt-to-GDP ratio exceeded 120%; challenged Jim Crow by making way for the Freedom Riders; and created access for every American to sea to shining sea.
This teach-a-man-to-fish approach is much different than paying people more on unemployment than in a job or one-off checks mailed to Americans, which, if we are being honest, are here today, gone tomorrow. To punch-through the COVID-19 scourge, and any subsequent infection waves sure to crash this winter, we need to get Americans back to work for the long haul, in roles where they can provide long-term value to our country.
Last week, House Democrats rolled out their version of an infrastructure bill. But their $500 billion proposal, when dissected, reveals that a lot of that money will be funneled toward “green transportation” projects and needless feel-good progressive regulation — a Green New Deal cloaked in infrastructure clothing. We all want a cleaner America, but at the moment, when the chair of the House Transportation Committee, Peter DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, thinks it a priority to include pork for electric vehicle charging stations and other besides-the-point green initiatives like greenhouse gas targets, we know the fix is in.
If Senate Republicans need a relevant counter-proposal, they need not look to Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso’s America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (ATIA). Just as Mr. DeFazio kneels at the AOC altar, so too would Mr. Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, have us finance charging stations for Yuppie Tesla owners at the cost of further helping working-class pickup truck drivers. At a time when the federal government has faced profound difficulties implementing one new program — the Paycheck Protection Program — he proposes the creation of dozens of new federal initiatives.
We need simple, proven solutions to drive us through today’s unparalleled crises. America must stick to doing what America knows best: building. Concentrate on things like expanding highway capacity, rebuilding bridges and reconnecting our communities, like they so desperately need to be.
Americans don’t need to foot the bill for the uncaring airline industry that fights consumer refunds on the one hand while pocketing taxpayer dollars with the other. No one is flying at present. Similarly, why again bailout transit systems? Aside from droves of protesters, few are riding and no one expects ridership to eclipse pre-pandemic levels for years. How are we getting around? We are driving. So focus on where it counts: the open road.
At present, the perennial congressional call (with too little follow-up) for “more infrastructure spending” is sounding like a bad joke on repeat-a-joke, we might add, wearing thin on average Americans. Nobody needs another “infrastructure week.” We need to rebuild America, body and soul. Only tried and true bipartisan teamwork grounded in today’s reality will allow this to happen. Leave your Green New Deals and bailouts at the door.
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