Tic Tac Diplomacy

So yesterday we witnessed a startling political event: A cordial meeting between President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. In fact it was so cordial that reportedly President Trump offered Speaker Pelosi a Tic Tac — and she accepted! 

Does this mean we are entering a new era of bi-partisan cooperation where what’s good for our country comes first? I wouldn’t count on it. The narrowly partisan priorities of Mitch McConnell will likely torpedo any outcome that could reflect even slightly well on Democrats. And who knows where President Trump will stand on all this if he starts feeling too much heat from future investigations. 

Nevertheless, Tuesday’s Tic Tac detente could mean that some groundwork is being laid to create greater public awareness of a critically important issue. It’s an issue that, unlike desperate refugee families at our border, truly is a serious national emergency. — America’s infrastructure is in dangerous disrepair and harmfully outdated. 

On Tuesday the President, Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer arrived at a general agreement to direct two trillion dollars toward updating America’s infrastructure. Their openly worded accord was possible because the three of them know this is an issue that crosses party lines. 

Across America there’s not a state, “red” or “blue”, that doesn’t need major infrastructure repairs. It’s been more than half a century since most of our interstate highway system was built and many more decades since our railroad system was at its best. Our highway and railroad bridges are really starting to show their age. (The U.S. rail system has over 100,000 bridges.) We’ve seen several highway- and rail-bridge disasters. The next one is just a matter of time. 

The water delivery systems in many of our communities need modernization. It’s a matter of health safety. 

And our nation’s electric grid is also a big part of this scenario. It is in need of huge upgrades. A few years ago the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the entire energy infrastructure a barely passing grade of D+. With that in mind we should not only face the fact that we need a power grid that is not just more efficient, but much safer from foreign meddling. – After 2016 I don’t think anyone could say such concerns are unfounded. 

Modernizing the electric grid will also be needed to modernize our rail system. Sooner or later climate change pressures for cleaner air will force the switching of much of America’s nearly 100% diesel fueled rail system to electric power. And sooner would be better. (Among EU nations the average percentage of railway lines using electricity is over 53%. In some European countries it’s much higher.) 

And of course, upgrading our electric grid could and should include raising the percentage of electricity drawn from wind and solar sources. I’m sure this will incite a battle from the carbon lobby but this should be part of the infrastructure package.  

Back in President Obama’s first term, in response to the Great Recession, the President proposed rebuilding 150,000 miles of road, laying and maintaining 4,000 miles of rail track, restoring 150 miles of runways and advancing a next-generation air-traffic control system. A Republican controlled Congress blocked Obama’s initiative, and I don’t know how much if any of those improvements were ever begun. Now, perhaps some of those promising plans could be pushed in today’s Democratically controlled House. 

It is true that the trajectory of economic improvement President Obama initiated has put us in much better shape than we were in 2008. But for a large number of Americans, including, I imagine, virtually every member of Congress, an infrastructure initiative today promises lots of potential jobs. Jobs for people who feel the growing economy has passed them by. If it’s done right, infrastructure revitalization can lead to the re-industrialization of formerly productive areas of our country. 

It all sounds good, doesn’t it? But success of this initiative faces steep odds. I’d like to think that both the Republican and Democratic Party leaders do want to see a big infrastructure program begun. Sadly, I’m also pretty sure both sides are calculating how this discussion and the disagreements it generates can benefit their candidates in 2020, whether or not anything is enacted.  

There is an overabundance of cynicism ruling our national politics these days. (It’s hard to avoid in this Trump era.) But this endeavor should be taken as a serious proposal, worthy of an honest effort. If we do nothing, in the coming years the United States’ position as a world leader will be unnecessarily weakened. Bringing America’s infrastructure up to speed with the rest of the modern world is in our nation’s best interests.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973