We are in a crisis of near-unprecedented nature, scale and consequence, and the actions we take today will define our nation’s physical and fiscal health for generations to come.
America’s response to the COVID-19 global pandemic is being fought on multiple fronts through extraordinary efforts to coordinate regionally, nationally and globally. From adversity comes opportunity, and as we exchange best practices with others, we must also seize the moment to protect our own best interests.
According to a recent article in The Washington Post, after taking drastic measures to stem the spread of COVID-19, China is already preparing to deploy a “post-virus strategy that includes flooding the world market with goods… while Western companies are on their backs” and becoming “a haven for foreign capital if its markets bounce back before ours.”
Our response to the pandemic crisis must consider this reality and take aggressive steps to ensure the sanctity and supremacy of the U.S. economy and all its constituent parts.
To help our economy rebound quickly, the president and Congress negotiated a financial stimulus package that exceeds $2 trillion. As details of the relief plan come into focus, it remains unclear what if any funds in the massive bill will be dedicated to investing in the nation’s infrastructure. This despite strong bipartisan support for including such spending as a key element of economic stimulus.
Perhaps it will be found in the fine print of the half-trillion dollars in “lending fund(s) for industries, cities and states.” If it’s in there, great. If it’s not, funds must be reprogrammed now, or included in the next inevitable pandemic relief bill, to sustain, improve and expand all aspects of American infrastructure.
Now is the moment to make next generation investments in the backbone of our nation’s economy to help us better prepare for future national and global crises. The Center for American Progress recently posited, “Spending money on infrastructure puts people to work and creates durable assets that can help boost long-term economic growth.”
I couldn’t agree more.
New and substantial infrastructure spending is desperately needed now to stimulate the economy, source and sell raw materials, and create good jobs for a disrupted workforce.
Furthermore, any infrastructure component of a stimulus package should provide targeted support for two key objectives: (1) improving America’s supply chain to move goods more rapidly and safely to market; and, (2) making meaningful reforms to the antiquated infrastructure permitting process to slash red tape, coordinate evaluations and approvals under clear lead-agency protocols, and promote — rather than delay or block — critical infrastructure projects.
We must also ensure that any new spending on roads, rails, transit and clean energy projects doesn’t become a stimulus program for Chinese factories, mines and workers.
With millions of Americans sidelined by the COVID-19 crisis, we must re-shore essential pieces of our own industrial base and identify new ways to bolster U.S. jobs in the infrastructure space. We watch in horror as shortages of key medical supplies, from protective masks and gloves to life-saving test kits and ventilators, are costing American lives.
The crisis is also costing American jobs, because we lack the domestic manufacturing agility and political will to retool quickly, make products at home, and put our unemployed back to work.
As U.S. companies with the best intentions pivot to produce the supplies we need, we see how difficult it is to ramp up a flexible, diversified industrial base that simply isn’t in place. This lesson relates to all aspects of our infrastructure, including transportation, telecommunications, national defense, energy and even the front-end supplier to build out all these — mining.
China has long sought to dominate our mineral and metals supply chain, and with a high degree of success; this should end now. We have everything we need right here in America. Let’s focus on our own recovery and not tee-up new opportunities for China to take advantage of this worldwide crisis.
This pandemic is a terrifying wake-up call that also presents us with opportunity. Out of tragedy, we are presented with the chance to help fund the modernization of the nation’s backbone — our critical infrastructure assets — while re-shoring essential U.S. industries, absorbing displaced workers, and creating tens of thousands of American jobs.
Policymakers must make sure that the investments made to bolster our economy include provisions to support American competitiveness, re-establish and expand critical pieces of our industrial base, and ensure we are focusing on American jobs — not tightening China’s grip on our country’s essential supply chains.