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Impeachment Over, Will Infrastructure Advance?

February 7, 2020   Waterways Journal (Editorial)

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Impeachment Over, Will Infrastructure Advance?


The long impeachment drama is finally over, as the Senate acquitted President Donald Trump of two charges with votes of 52–48 and 53–47, respectively. While the drama has enthralled official Washington and sucked up media coverage, polls consistently showed that most Americans remained disinterested and that the proceedings changed few minds, if any.

To those trying to get real work done in Washington, impeachment has been a distraction. That includes advocates for infrastructure improvements.

During his State of the Union speech, Trump made just one reference to infrastructure, when he said, “We must also rebuild America’s infrastructure. I ask you to pass Sen. John Barrasso’s highway bill to invest in new roads, bridges and tunnels all across our land.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the important House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, criticized what he called a “massive missed opportunity” for Trump to address infrastructure in more detail. “[T]hree years into his administration, President Trump has yet to put forth a single new idea that would fix our roads, bridges, ports, airports, water infrastructure, and transit system or show any leadership on how our country funds significant infrastructure investment,” De Fazio said. That’s not completely accurate. Early in his administration, Trump did suggest an infrastructure funding model involving private capital. But the idea was overwhelmingly negatively received by infrastructure advocates in both parties and went nowhere.

For their part, congressional Democrats have recently unveiled a five-year, $760 billion infrastructure plan—but without the key detail of how to pay for it.

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, chose to put a more positive spin on Trump’s mention of infrastructure. “In the midst of an evening with obvious acrimony expressed on both sides of the political aisle, the call to prioritize the infrastructure needs of the country provided one of the few moments of consensus,” he wrote.   

On water infrastructure, Congress has been providing strong, bipartisan support, most recently with its (FY) 2020 Energy and Water Appropriations bill that funds the Corps of Engineers at higher levels than requested by the White House, providing many projects with efficient funding.

Steenhoek is correct that there are always some politicians in both parties who are anxious to show the American people that positive action can still be taken. With the election campaign season in full swing, candidates have mostly been silent on infrastructure in their competing visions and lists of talking points. That could be a positive sign, though, indicating few partisan conflicts on infrastructure that can be turned into snappy election sound bites.

Mike Toohey, president and CEO of Waterways Council Inc., said, “During the State of the Union address, WCI was pleased that the one bipartisan issue that got all of Congress on their feet in support, with applause, was infrastructure, and for Sen. Barrasso’s bill (which happens to be highway-centric).  Looking ahead, we are very optimistic that a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2020 bill will move forward. The Senate (Environment and Public Works Committee) is preparing its bill and the House (Transportation and Infrastructure Committee) has scheduled its last hearing.  We are also supportive of the recently released ‘Moving Forward Framework’ House infrastructure initiative that calls for $3 billion in federal investment for the inland waterways and $19 billion for harbor maintenance areas.” 

Certainly, passage of a WRDA would provide a boost for both parties and the nation as a whole. We hope all sides see it that way.