Written by Congressman Kilmer
Seven months after becoming the new Representative from Washington’s 6th District one of the questions I’m probably asked most is this: “Is Congress as bad as it looks?”
The short answer is that Congress continues to be somewhat of a “fixer-upper.” Unfortunately there are a lot of folks who focus too much on partisanship over making progress. The result is that Congress has yet to pass a single bill about jobs and has been unable to compromise on important issues like stopping the non-strategic across-the-board cuts or passing a budget.
This is a problem because the number one issue facing our country today is growing jobs. We’ve got to get this economy cooking.
There are undoubtedly opportunities to reduce government spending and Congress must absolutely get our nation’s long-term fiscal house in order. But while these are priorities Congress also needs to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time – it needs to work on deficit reduction and on making smart investments to create jobs.
We can do both at the same time.
One of the smartest investments our country can make to get the economy back on track and create jobs is in infrastructure. The I-5 bridge collapse in Skagit County was a stark reminder of something many of us already know – our infrastructure is ageing and in need of improvement.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers over 20 percent of the bridges in Washington State are considered functionally obsolete. 65 percent of Washington’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition and 227 dams in the state are considered “high hazard.” For the sake of our safety strengthening our infrastructure is an overdue investment.
But this is more than just a public safety issue – investing in our infrastructure is one of the smartest ways to grow jobs now and in the future. Both labor unions and chambers of commerce around the region agree infrastructure investments will help get folks back to work and enhance our prosperity over the long haul. After all the Association of General Contractors found that 28500 new jobs are created for every $1 billion in infrastructure investment.
Investing in infrastructure is a smart use of taxpayer dollars and a way to do more with less. With last year’s passage of the federal surface transportation authorization Congress extended our nation’s highway and transit programs until next October but failed to provide the kind of long-term stable financing that our state and local transportation officials need to plan projects and modernize our roads and bridges.
As Congress again begins the work of laying out our nation’s surface transportation policy one of its top priorities must be to find a lasting solution to our declining Highway Trust Fund. Congress needs to ensure that our nation is making the investments needed to replace our crumbling infrastructure and getting America back to work.
Congress should look to the kind of work that we were able to accomplish in Olympia last year when I served as the state Senate’s lead capital budget writer. We worked together across party lines to pass both a bipartisan deficit reduction plan and a bipartisan budget that put folks back to work by making smart investments. Our budget targeted long-term economic growth by investing $1 billion in infrastructure statewide directly creating 18000 jobs.
If it can be done in one Washington I’m confident it can be done in the other.
The first step is for both parties to stop defining success as making the other guys look bad and to realize that we need to work together if Congress is going to work at all. It may take time but after seven months I’m still optimistic we can work together to move our economy – and our country – forward.