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Chamber, AFL-CIO Back Infrastructure Spending In Rare Joint Statement

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RICHARD TRUMKA THOMAS DONOHUE

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, often bitter foes in conflicts between business and labor, released a rare joint statement Wednesday in support of President Barack Obama's call for additional infrastructure spending.

The business lobby and union conglomerate's respective leaders offered a united front in applauding the broad pitch for domestic development in Obama's State of the Union address.

"America's working families and business community stand united in applauding President Obama's call to create jobs and grow our economy through investment in our nation's infrastructure," their joint statement reads. "Whether it is building roads, bridges, high-speed broadband, energy systems and schools, these projects not only create jobs and demand for businesses, they are an investment in building the modern infrastructure our country needs to compete in a global economy.

"With the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO standing together to support job creation, we hope that Democrats and Republicans in Congress will also join together to build America's infrastructure."

The statement doesn't address some key specifics of Obama's plan, including a multi-year investment to repair the country's transit systems and the creation of a national infrastructure bank to leverage private dollars for those projects. But any collaboration between Chamber President Tom Donohue and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is noteworthy.

Wednesday's joint statement is the first time that both men have attached their names and organizational credibility to the same project since Obama entered the White House. The partnership came about, an AFL-CIO aide said, during a conversation that the two had at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, though the two groups had previously discussed a possible need to submarine House GOP efforts to cut infrastructure spending.

Support for Obama's plan -- especially on broad terms -- by interest groups does not guarantee votes in Congress. As Matt Stoller, a progressive strategist and former top aide to Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL.) noted on Twitter: "The Chamber "supported" the stimulus and delivered 0 GOP House votes."

That said, it's become something of a rarity for the business lobby to attach itself to any legislative proposal emanating from the Obama White House, at least since the passage of secondary TARP programs and the stimulus in early 2009. The Chamber standing side-by-side with the administration -- at least on the broad terms of infrastructure investment -- let alone the nation's largest labor federation, can be a powerful political motivator.

Earlier in the day, the Chamber put out a statement on infrastructure investment that The Plum Line's Greg Sargent called a "qualified endorsement, pending the specifics of Obama's proposal, and a clear endorsement of some of the basic underlying ideas Obama expressed yesterday."