THE BLOG
11/01/2013 02:25 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Rebuild America or Let it Wither

These are sobering times if you believe that returning to the days when America actually built things and modernized its economy is critical to our future. From sequestration to the recent government shutdown and inaction on a real job investment platform, 2013 has been the year of backward thinking, as extreme elements within one party have imposed their Dark Ages ideology on the nation.

Fortunately there is another vision for the U.S., one grounded in reality and sound economic practices. It is a vision not unlike the one that guided America during the decades when investment in the lifeblood of our economy -- public transit, aviation, rail, roads, bridges, ports and waterways -- made us the envy of the world.

This vision was alive and well at a recent gathering of labor leaders in Washington, where the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) held an Executive Committee meeting focused on a new way forward. There was no Tea Party talk about bleeding the government dry or pushing the economy to the brink of collapse. Instead the focus was on the very real business of rebuilding the country's transportation system, putting the American economy back on track and countering those who believe sequestration and threatened shutdowns are the "new normal."

Years of neglect have brought us to the breaking point when it comes to our transportation systems. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said it succinctly: "Because we have not done our jobs when it comes to investing in the future, the U.S. no longer ranks among the World Economic Forum's top 10 countries in terms of infrastructure quality and investment." That's it in a nutshell -- we stop investing for a generation and we slip to the middle of the pack when it comes to readying our economy for what lies ahead.

This is not an issue that should be partisan or even open to reasonable debate. That's why, for example, more than 70 percent of manufacturers -- whose livelihood relies on efficiently receiving what they need to produce and ship their goods to market -- believe our nation's infrastructure is failing us. It is why in a town where the labor movement and the business lobby disagree on many things, we are on the same page with the Chamber of Commerce on the need to invest and end this austerity nonsense.

But facts apparently are of no significance to extreme elements in our political system and think tank community that have done everything in their power to stop the U.S. from investing in its future. The madness that began with sequestration and its devastating cuts has continued, culminating in a government shutdown that cost the U.S. economy an estimated $24 billion. For America's mobility, this reckless strategy slowed air safety projects, shutdown all transportation improvement grants, idled transportation construction jobs, and even threatened the U.S. Merchant Marine, which does very little other than ensure America's preparedness for military and humanitarian missions.

The U.S. cannot afford much more of this amateur-hour policymaking. The costs to our economy are too great. It is time for a bipartisan agreement to make the necessary long-term investments in transportation systems and infrastructure.

A good model for such an agreement is last week's passage in the House of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA). The House voted 417-3 to approve the first water resources jobs bill since 2007, which will strengthen America's competitiveness through improvements to our ports, harbors and waterways. The Senate passed a similar bill in May by an 83-14 vote. With several large transportation investment bills pending in Congress and sequestration and another shutdown staring us in the face, we will learn quickly whether WRRDA was a trend or a short-lived flirtation with common sense.

It is time to face down the extremists that are exerting too much control over the future of our economy and its transportation network. While there's a small minority that thinks this reckless agenda is good for America, the rest of us reject it. For our part, transportation unions are committed to making sure America starts building things again and stops letting a few out of step lawmakers control the fate of our economy and the tools it relies on such as safe and modern passenger and freight transportation.

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