“Odd couple” backs BUILD Act for jobs

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WASHINGTON - AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donahue are an odd couple on Capitol Hill, urging Congress - and the private sector - to approve hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild the nation's bridges, highways, schools, power grid and other vital public infrastructure while also creating millions of well-paying jobs.

Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas invited Trumka and Donahue to a joint press conference March 15 to introduce the "BUILD Act of 2011" to create a new federal Infrastructure Bank. BUILD is an acronym for Building and Upgrading Infrastructure for Long-Term Development.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, joined by Rep. Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota, and others introduced a companion measure in the House last Jan. 24.

Kerry hailed the bipartisan, labor-business coalition that is supporting the BUILD Act. "Experts say we will need to invest $250 billion for each of the next fifty years just to meet our nation's surface transportation needs," Kerry told the news conference. "And it will cost more than $2 trillion to bring our country's existing infrastructure to an acceptable level."

The Kerry-Hutchinson bill would appropriate $10 billion in federal "seed money" that would be used to leverage up to $600 billion in private investments to pay for hundreds of urgently needed public works projects, many of them "shovel ready.

Donohue told the news conference, "I'd also like to recognize Rich Trumka. A few weeks ago, Rich and I appeared before Sen. Barbara Boxer's [Democrat of California] Environment and Public Works Committee united in our support for adequate infrastructure investments. We're seeing so much of each other lately we begin touring next month in the newest production of 'The Odd Couple.'"

Donahue cited the abysmal grade of "D" by the American Society of Civil Engineers for the nation's physical infrastructure. "Poor road conditions are a factor in one-third of all traffic fatalities," he added. "As we fall behind, our competitors are racing ahead, building superior infrastructure that will attract jobs, businesses and capital ... Americans wonder why our government doesn't act."

Hundreds of billions in pension funds, private equity funds and mutual funds are available for investment in high quality, low risk infrastructure projects, Donohue added, "And not just for highways and bridges but for energy, ports, inland waterways, dams and levees, expansion of the electrical grid and other infrastructure."

Donahue also urged Congress to approve the transportation bill, long stalled by the Republicans, that would pump hundreds of billions of dollars into highway and bridge projects preserving and creating tens of thousands of jobs.

Trumka told the news conference the U.S. is investing "less than 40 percent of what is necessary to meet the nation's infrastructure needs. That is unacceptable and unsustainable." The Kerry-Hutchinson Senate bill and the DeLauro House bill "help reach our shared goal of a better life for all Americans" while creating millions of public works jobs, Trumka said, adding that the bill "lays a strong foundation for growth." The AFL-CIO, he said, will work to insure "strong wage protection for workers," benefits and union bargaining rights in the program.

These odd couples, Republican and Democrat, labor and business, are a striking contrast to the rancorous partisan gridlock whipped up by the tea party Republicans who block any bipartisan measure that could pull the nation out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Instead, the Republican right is intent on terminating or privatizing the safety net, including Medicare and Social Security in the name of "deficit reduction."

The Republican right wing claims this is necessary to "create jobs" but the cutbacks have generated a tsunami of 450,000 public employee layoffs that has nullified nearly all the gains in private sector job creation. These layoffs, in turn, have worsened the crisis by reducing tax revenues leading to more layoffs in a downward spiral.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich warned recently that the nation is at severe risk of a "double dip," sliding back into a second, far worse recession unless the federal government acts boldly to create millions of jobs. Instead, the Republican leadership is preaching austerity, claiming the nation is "broke" and cannot afford federal job creation programs. Reich points out that Wall Street banks profits soared to $426.5 billion last quarter and the banks are sitting on three trillion in capital, much of it generated by the TARP taxpayer bailout. Restoring the tax rate on banks and corporations to the rate imposed until the Reagan era would generate hundreds of billions in tax revenues. A hundred billion or more could be deposited in this federal Infrastructure Development Bank.

DeLauro told a news conference back in January that the Infrastructure Development Bank "creates good middle class jobs at a time of unacceptably high unemployment and spurs economic growth.

Ellison said, "Priority number one for this congress must be creating jobs and lowering unemployment. A National Infrastructure Development Bank is designed to simultaneously rehabilitate our crumbling roads and bridges and put America back to work."

Image: People's World

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