A Year of Two Perspectives

By Will Brown

For some, the election of President Donald Trump in November 2016 marked a low point in America’s history. The disdain and hatred for the president was evident from his first day in office. Anti-Trump protests erupted across the country in many Democratic strongholds such as New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., in opposition to the newly-elected president. The sense that the country was doomed was a real sentiment within the Democratic Party as it sought answers for how the election could have turned out as it did. In fact, the sky has not fallen and rapture never came.

Conversely, others saw the election of Trump as a return of patriotism. The silent majority the president often spoke of on the campaign trail came out for him and secured him the White House. Republicans took control of every branch of government when the new Congress was sworn in, Trump took the oath. Neil Gorsuch later took the bench in the Supreme Court in April 2017.

Republicans made clear their intentions for legislative victories even before 2017 began, perhaps too soon.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate agreed the first task of the new government was to repeal Obamacare. However, even after campaigning on this promise in 2012, 2014 and 2016, it became clear that there were significant differences within the party about what the ‘repeal’ of Obamacare actually meant. This debate waged into the third quarter when the Senate voted down a compromise plan that would have largely watered down Obamacare, but kept it mostly in place. With that failure, the Senate pivoted to tax reform, which both chambers passed in short order.

will brown

Will Brown

Throughout 2017, the divide in the country was evident. The opposition to the president remained front and center in the media and in Democratic talking points. Rumors of articles of impeachment were precipitated by the House of Representatives’ most liberal wings before Trump had even reached 100 days in office. The special investigation into the Trump campaign’s relations with Russia has been ongoing and provides fodder for liberal pundits.

All of this divisiveness means only one thing to the infrastructure community: less is getting done.

Republican leaders expected to dispose of their healthcare promise quickly. They said doing away with many of Obamacare’s taxes or financial penalties would lay the foundation for tax reform that would allow Congress to lower the rates for both individuals and corporations. In turn, tax reform would free revenues for investment in an infrastructure plan. This infrastructure plan would supposedly help all modes of infrastructure from roads and bridges, which are the most popular and apparent, to water and sewer systems, which are the most expensive and the most in need. Now more than a year later, we have only begun to see to details of an infrastructure plan from the White House.

When less gets done, there becomes more pressure to impact what does get done. It is safe to assume that this is the new normal until the political climate moves toward more unity or compromise.

Some might argue that infrastructure is an exception to this rule because of the intrinsic bipartisan nature and need for action. Realistically however, it remains to be seen if Democrats will be willing to work with Republicans on infrastructure. Democrats were unified against both healthcare and tax reform, and largely decried being left out of negotiations despite giving ultimatums to be met before they would engage in discussions. Democrats may again put stipulations on their engagement in crafting an infrastructure bill, which would result in Republicans crafting their plan alone, again.

What is particularly clear about 2018 is that the economy is improving and the need for infrastructure investment is continuing to grow. Being an election year, one-third of the Senate and every Representative is up for re-election, so both parties will be looking to score points with their constituents. Whether an infrastructure plan can provide those points for both parties will be a calculation that both parties’ leaders will be making in the coming months. Make no mistake, we will know where both parties place their bets. If Republicans take up infrastructure, it will essentially mean two things: that they believe investing in infrastructure will help them win the election either on its merits or for fear that one win on tax reform is not enough and that they believe they can get it done, with or without Democrats’ support.

If infrastructure is brought up by Republicans, the Democrats will have a choice. Either work with Republicans to craft legislation, potentially giving Republicans the ability to argue that they can govern and still score a victory on an issue. Or, they can oppose and obstruct the process in hopes of showing that Republicans should not be re-elected to control. If Republicans don’t bring up infrastructure, they are betting either something else will be more helpful to their electability, or that they don’t need an infrastructure bill to campaign on. For Democrats, if Republicans do not bring up infrastructure, you will see either a verbose insistence that they do, indicating Democrats believe infrastructure is an issue they believe they can win on, or more of the same criticisms and obstruction we have seen for the past year. In either party’s case, they’re taking a gamble with what will be received most favorably by the electorate, and clearly indicating their views of the importance of infrastructure.

It should not be settling to the infrastructure community to pin our hopes for infrastructure investment and betterment for our country on the political calculations of the two major parties. We must push both parties to see the benefits, needs and, especially, repercussions of not investing in infrastructure. We don’t know when we will have the opportunity again.

Will Brown is director of government affairs for the National Utility Contractor’s Association (NUCA), the trade association working solely for the utility construction and excavation industry in the United States. NUCA’s nationwide network of state/regional chapters and member companies represent utility contractors, excavators, suppliers, manufacturers and other providers in the water, sewer, gas, electric, telecommunications, treatment plant and excavation industries.

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