By Sarah Gonzalez, Director of Communications and Digital Media; and Randy Gordon, President and CEO
President Donald Trump briefly mentioned the 2018 farm law and infrastructure investment as areas of bipartisan opportunity during his State of the Union address on Feb. 5. Trump also called on Congress to approve the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and discussed his trade negotiations with China, but he devoted most of his speech to advocating a U.S-Mexico border wall before the stopgap federal spending bill expires next week.
After citing the 2018 farm law – which he signed on Dec. 20 – as an example of successful bipartisanship, he said both sides of the aisle also should be able to unite around investing in U.S. infrastructure.
Infrastructure: “I know that the Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill – and I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future,” he said. “This is not an option. This is a necessity.”
NGFA this week joined a broad coalition of stakeholders urging congressional leaders to advance bipartisan infrastructure investment.
“We appreciate strong bipartisan support for various infrastructure initiatives over the years – including in the past Congress – and hope this momentum can lead to a more substantial commitment this year to meet the growing needs of our economy,” said the NGFA and hundreds of other stakeholder groups in a Feb. 6 letter to House and Senate leaders.
Among the priorities for a bipartisan infrastructure bill listed in the letter are: Addressing recurring shortages in key federal infrastructure accounts, such as the Highway Trust Fund; accelerating the federal permitting process; and encouraging participation from all levels of government between public and private sectors without shifting federal responsibilities “because no single partner can deliver a well-functioning, national U.S. infrastructure network driven by a long-term vision and funding stability.”
Meanwhile, new House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., also called for congressional action during an address at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 5. He proceeded on Feb. 7 to conduct an initial full committee hearing that he dubbed, “The Cost of Doing Nothing: Why Investing in Our Nation’s Infrastructure Cannot Wait.”
“We are in a crisis on infrastructure,” DeFazio told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce meeting attended by NGFA. “We need to step up, and can no longer wait. These are investments we can’t afford not to make.”
DeFazio said raising the federal gas tax, which has not been increased since 1993, by 2 cents per gallon would generate $600 billion over 10 years for highways, roads and bridges. He also stressed that public-private partnerships on infrastructure can play a role, but “at best” on only 8 to 10 percent of the estimated $2 trillion in infrastructure revenues required.
DeFazio also emphasized the need for harbor maintenance, including fully dredged navigation channels at the nation’s 59 busiest ports, noting that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects $20.3 billion will be needed for federal navigation projects over the next decade. Importantly, he pledged to again lead efforts in the House to enact legislation authorizing full utilization – without a specific appropriation from Congress – of funds generated by an ad valorem tax on importers and domestic shippers using coastal and inland ports that are deposited into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. He said approximately $9 billion in already-collected revenues “are sitting idle” in the U.S. Treasury expressly for dredging activities. “Shippers continue to honor their commitment to pay for promised maintenance activities that the federal government has not carried out,” DeFazio said, noting that legislation to immediately authorize full utilization of the trust fund had been blocked in the past by former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. DeFazio noted that legislation fully utilizing the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund had been approved twice previously, and that he will renew that effort under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Trade: During his State of the Union address, Trump also called on Congress to ratify the USMCA, which retains a tariff-free agricultural grain trade environment between the United States, Mexico and Canada. Legislative bodies in all three countries still need to approve the new trade pact. The president criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement as a “historic blunder,” touting the USMCA as a better deal.
“[USMCA] will replace NAFTA and deliver for American workers: bringing back our manufacturing jobs, expanding American agriculture, protecting intellectual property, and ensuring that more cars are proudly stamped with four beautiful words: made in the USA,” Trump said.
Trump also spent some time defending his trade negotiating tactics with China, including the imposition of tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods, which resulted in China retaliating with a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans and other commodities.
“We are now making it clear to China that after years of targeting our industries, and stealing our intellectual property, the theft of American jobs and wealth has come to an end,” Trump said. “I have great respect for (Chinese) President Xi, and we are now working on a new trade deal with China. But it must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit, and protect American jobs.”
U.S. and Chinese negotiators most recently met in Washington last week. The White House issued a statement following those talks noting that U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports will increase on March 1 unless they can agree to a deal. However, Trump on Thursday told reporters that he will not have time to meet with Xi before the March deadline. Trump’s top economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, said he expects the leaders to meet eventually, but there remains “a pretty sizable difference” between the two on a deal.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are scheduled to resume negotiations in China next week.