AFL-CIO, Chamber of Commerce Agree – Spend More on Infrastructure

Business and labor are often at odds. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, and Tom Donahue, president of the Chamber of Commerce, appeared Sunday on ABC's “This Week” to discuss their collaborative effort to encourage Congress to spend more on the nation's infrastructure. Infrastructure spending will create jobs and help American companies remain competitive, they argue.

“We can't be competitive in a global economy unless we have infrastructure that allows us to be competitive,” Trumka said.

Donahue agreed. “For the fundamental issue of let's put people to work and let's improve the nation's infrastructure, we have no objection and no differences.”

The Chamber of Commerce tends to be more supportive of Republicans while labor unions comprise part of the Democratic coalition.

Trumka is also part of President Obama's “Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.” The council is comprised of 27 members who are mostly CEO's and presidents of American corporations, including GE, Boeing, Intel, Citigroup, Kodak, Facebook, Dupont, Southwest Airlines, and Proctor & Gamble. It also includes labor leader Joseph Hansen, president of the UFCW. Investing more in infrastructure is among the council's initial recommendations.

The American Society of Civil Engineers issued a report on America's infrastructure, including roads, bridges, railways, waterways, ports, drinking water, waste water, and power lines, in 2009. The report estimated that $2.2 trillion was needed to update America's infrastructure. Since then, Congress has spent $903 billion.

Donahue said that the quality of a nation is related to economic growth. “You can tell based upon the health of your infrastructure what your GDP is going to be,” he said. Based upon the current state of America's infrastructure, the nation is “on target – no growth, no jobs,” according to Donahue.

The current political climate makes spending more on infrastructure difficult. The president's “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform” estimated that at least $4 trillion would need to be cut from the federal budget over 10 years to get the nation's fiscal house in order. However, Democrats have been reluctant to reduce the current rates of growth in entitlement spending and Republicans have been reluctant to raise taxes or cut military spending.

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is currently working on finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction by the end of next month. Spending additional money on infrastructure would require finding savings or additional revenue beyond what that committee comes up with.

Additional infrastructure spending was a component of Obama's jobs bill, which he is currently promoting. A modified version of the bill failed to pass in the Senate. Congress is now taking a piecemeal approach to the jobs bill and trying to pass parts of the bill that can gain bipartisan support. The Senate is expected to take up an infrastructure spending bill in the next few weeks.

“How can America not be in this to win, has this country gone soft?” host Christiane Amanpour asked Donahue.

“Emerging countries have people who are entrepreneurs and working very hard. We're a developed country. I wouldn't say we've gone soft, we've gone comfortable. And what we need are young people, coming into the workforce, starting their own businesses … and we need to help them, the banks need to help them,” Donahue said.

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