The “Tom and Rich Show” continued on Capitol Hill yesterday. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue and AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka joined up for yet another event to show that business and labor, which don’t agree on anything, agree on a major infusion of federal investment for infrastructure.
They weren’t the only strange bedfellows there. Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer and Republican Congressman John Mica were practically holding hands through the entire press conference. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (a Democrat) found common cause with Mesa Mayor Scott Smith (a Republican).
“We have Democrats, Republicans, House, Senate, labor, business, lambs, lions, cats, dogs lying down together,” said Mayor Smith. “But there’s no apocalypse on the horizon. There’s a new dawn.”
In the past, even as other leaders in Boxer’s party have called for an infrastructure bank, she has hesitated to join them, expressing support for a strengthened and expanded TIFIA loan program instead. She’s said that rather than create a new federal bureaucracy, she’d rather stick with an existing program with a proven track record. But now she’s saying those approaches can each work in conjunction. “They’re definitely complementary,” she said yesterday. “I’m supporting the infrastructure bank, a strengthened TIFIA, and the Wyden approach [to renew the Build America Bonds program]. They’re all complementary. It’s all about leverage, leverage, leverage.”
Tom Donohue’s persistent, at times strident calls for strong federal infrastructure investment have been at odds with the calls from the fiscal conservatives the Chamber helped elect. While many in the House are bracing for a smaller reauthorization bill than hoped for – possibly even smaller than the last one, passed in 2005 – and calling for increased public-private partnerships to pick up the slack, Donohue knows that’s not going to cut it. He’s calling for a big bill, funded with a significant increase in the gas tax, which everyone in the transportation industry supports and everyone in Washington shuns.