As I write this column, two issues AGC of America has long championed--infrastructure funding and immigration reform--are back in the news. Unfortunately, the issues aren’t necessarily in the news for the right reasons. There were early indications that the President and Democratic leaders were interested in crafting a $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. But their negotiations broke down when the President announced in late May that he wouldn’t work on a bill while Democrats pursued their “phony” investigations. Meanwhile, the President has released a new immigration reform proposal that, theoretically, provides an opportunity for more visas to go to men and women with construction skills. Yet his proposal was met with criticism from conservative and liberal groups alike.
It is encouraging to see our national leaders discussing two of our top legislative issues, especially since we have been pushing hard to get and keep infrastructure on the top of the President’s agenda and to get Washington to enact immigration reform as part of a broader effort to address workforce shortages. Yet it can be equally discouraging to see progress on these and other vital issues get sidelined by petty, partisan bickering. The question is, what happens now and how do we move forward?
The clear answer is we need to keep pushing for action on both issues. Of the two, funding infrastructure would appear to be the easier lift. Both parties agree on the need for new infrastructure funding and continue to talk about wanting to do a deal to fund needed improvements. Yet both Republicans and Democrats are hesitant to commit to any specific funding solutions to pay for those new investments.
Our challenge with infrastructure funding is to help Congress and the administration to understand that voters have regularly supported elected officials who find ways to fix infrastructure and simultaneously punished politicians who block new infrastructure measures. Last November’s election demonstrated this. Voters supported an overwhelming majority of pro-infrastructure measures and also re-elected the vast majority of politicians who had backed infrastructure funding measures. At the same time, a handful of members of Congress who backed antiinfrastructure measures lost their re-election bids.
We will be making our case by continuing to bring in people from outside of the construction industry into this debate via our Americans for Better Infrastructure campaign. This effort uses social media to find constituents in key Congressional districts who support infrastructure and gets them to reach out to their Congressional delegation and let them know of their support. At the same time, we will continue to connect contractors with members of Congress and the administration via our Hardhats for Highways campaign.
Getting Congress to focus on immigration is likely to be an even heavier lift. At times it appears that Congress would rather keep our broken immigration system as a talking point to pummel the other party instead of finding effective solutions. Our challenge will be to continue making the case that allowing more people to legally enter the country to work in construction careers will help our economy and better protect workers. It will provide much-needed short-term relief to workforce shortages while protecting these legal immigrants from the kind of exploitation too many undocumented workers face from unscrupulous contractors.
There is a broader point to be made here, that most Americans understand but too few of our national leaders appear to grasp. Our broken infrastructure and immigration systems are serving as a metaphor for our increasingly dysfunctional politics in Washington. As these problems lag, American’s faith in our system will continue to diminish. But if Congress and the Administration can make progress on both issues, they will also start the needed work of rebuilding Americans’ trust in our federal political establishments.
That is why AGC of America will continue to aggressively push for progress on infrastructure and immigration, as well as many other AGC priorities. And the more members who weigh in with their Congressional delegation – in person and via social media – the stronger our case will be.