Bipartisan Bill Would Boost Infrastructure, Trim Debt
Even in this moment of historically strong economic growth, 46 million Americans still live in poverty. They are not exclusively from one political party, racial background, or geographic region, but they do share a common experience. From inner-city streets to the rusted husks of ex-manufacturing centers to the hollows of coal country, these Americans live in areas where economic opportunity is scarce, and hope often feels like an unaffordable luxury.
As members of the Democratic and Republican parties, we disagree on most issues, but we share the common belief that more can and must be done to help lift up the most impoverished communities in our country. While many of the problems in these areas cannot be cured by government alone, Washington policymakers can take certain actions to begin directing resources to the places that need them most.
For this purpose, we (along with Rep. Ted Budd of North Carolina) introduced a bipartisan bill (HR 6104) in June known as the Generating American Income and Infrastructure Now (GAIIN) Act to help fund critical infrastructure projects in the poorest areas of the nation. It would do so without any new taxes or spending and would simultaneously help pay down our record-high national debt.
Frankly, these communities have been overlooked by policymakers from both parties for a long time. But with this bipartisan tragedy comes bipartisan opportunity. Based on research by the Brookings Institute, roughly 75 percent of the nation’s poorest congressional districts are represented by members of Congress’ black, Hispanic, and conservative caucuses. It’s no wonder that that’s where support for the GAIIN Act has been growing.
Genuine philosophical differences over the size and scope of government cannot and should not be papered over, but genuine middle ground where conservative and liberal priorities are thoroughly met should not be denied or ignored. We each agree that a booming economy is not truly successful unless its benefits reach all Americans and it visibly addresses our national infrastructure crisis.
A proper infrastructure renaissance throughout America should include the construction of world-class airports, bridges, broadband, highways, railways, and more. But with sky-high debt and deficits, Congress cannot ignore the consequences of the nation’s long-term budget crisis, which hundreds of billions of dollars in new federal spending would only accelerate.
In 1986, President Reagan and the Democratic-controlled Congress faced a similar dilemma when they passed major tax reform legislation. To help cover the budget shortfall, they turned to a bipartisan plan that required federal agencies to monetize their debt by selling it to the private market.
This model is viable today and provides an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to come together and deliver infrastructure-related results for lower- and middle-income Americans of diverse political and racial backgrounds.
Currently, federal agencies hold more than $2 trillion in debt and lease assets. The sale of a portion of these assets, if expedited, could raise a significant amount of money for infrastructure projects. Rather than languishing in Washington, we believe this money could be used for the good of our constituents and fellow citizens throughout our country.
Passage of the GAIIN Act would take the first step toward making optimal use of these assets by directing the Office of Management and Budget to identify all distressed debt currently held by the Department of Agriculture and then directing the Treasury Department to package it for sale to the private market. It would then require that 50 percent of the revenue received be spent on infrastructure projects in communities below the poverty line and the other 50 percent be applied toward reduction of the national debt.
By building new highways, byways, and bridges near factories, farms, and inner cities, we can begin the long, necessary process of ensuring that all Americans have an equal opportunity to succeed. It presents a superb opportunity to put aside our political differences for the forgotten men, women, and children whose communities have been ignored for too long.
Reviving America’s poorest cities and towns is a moral, fiscal, and economic imperative. It is rare than one piece of legislation can meet this objective on its own, let alone bring together conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats from minority communities. Even rarer is a bill that attracts the co-sponsorship of lawmakers in the House Freedom Caucus, the Black Congressional Caucus, and the Progressive Caucus just a few months before an election. But the GAIIN Act is that kind of bill.
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Republican Study Committee.
Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) is a member of the House Financial Services Committee and the Congressional Black Caucus.