Sen. Kevin Cramer: Infrastructure investment is what America needs to fight coronavirus

Under President Trump, the United States economy is roaring. Just look at the February jobs report, with 273,000 new jobs added, job numbers in December and January revised up by 85,000, and average hourly earnings up 3 percent from this time last year.

Our rocket-ship economy is strong, but the coronavirus outbreak threatens to derail some of this momentum. Stocks have fallen significantly over the last month, and the profits of industries which rely on tourism and travel – roughly 7 percent of our gross domestic product – are falling.

What our economy needs to weather this storm is not merely a blank check stimulus, but policies that invest in long-term growth. While we work toward that goal, temporary measures to stimulate our economy and assist those most impacted are sure to be necessary.

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Instead of cutting federal interest rates or momentary relief, I believe any sort of effort designed to stimulate the economy should be aimed at areas the federal government already oversees and needs to prioritize. Washington could learn a lesson from North Dakota. We are an energy state that has become accustomed to the boom and bust cycles of the industry. During the bust, North Dakota took that opportunity to invest in our infrastructure so we would be better prepared for the next boom. Our state continues to benefit from that foresight today and Congress could do the same.

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Ironically, the nation’s largest highway bill in history is awaiting congressional action. Last July, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) unanimously passed S. 2302, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act. In an era of deeply divided government, our committee was able to come together and advance a package that will produce real results for all Americans.

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Our bill authorizes $287 billion over five years, including $259 billion for programs to maintain and repair America’s roads and bridges. It grows the economy, eliminates burdensome regulation, invests in tribal lands, and maintains the current funding formula that ensures states like North Dakota receive steady funding and flexibility to prioritize its transportation needs. During his State of the Union, President Trump called on Congress to pass this legislation expeditiously.

As EPW Ranking Member Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said, “For far too long, our country has leaped from one highway funding crisis to the next and failed to implement forward-looking solutions to the challenges facing our transportation sector. America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act will ensure that every community reaps the benefits of strong federal investment, with safer roads, cleaner air, greater mobility and more connectivity.”

I agree. We have a highway bill waiting and we are developing water infrastructure legislation. During this temporary coronavirus bust, Congress must work overtime to send an infrastructure package to President Trump. Every American would reap the benefit of passing this bill and it would set us up for long-term success. Let’s get these done!

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Beyond infrastructure, Congress has worked with President Trump to rebuild our military. I sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee and last year we passed a bipartisan $738 billion defense bill. This package makes critical investments in equipment and infrastructure. These dollars are a boon to everyone from manufacturers within our defense industrial base to local contractors who are hired to refurbish and build our bases. The administration ought to look for opportunities to expedite projects to stimulate action that’s already been given the green light by Congress.

If we are looking for ways to inject economic benefit into the economy, let’s start here. We should avoid the pitfall of believing throwing cash at the problem will solve the problem. Follow the North Dakota model by investing in our nation’s infrastructure and national defense. All Americans will see and feel the results and be even more competitive after the virus passes.

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