Business, unions ramp up campaign for U.S. infrastructure spending

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By Luciana Lopez

<span class="articleLocation”>Business groups and unions are bulking up
lobbying budgets and coordinating efforts to put pressure on
Congress not to let President Donald Trump’s infrastructure
spending plans fall through the cracks on Capitol Hill.

“The more time goes on, the more frustration will build up
if it doesn’t come around quick enough,” said Sean McGarvey,
president of North America’s Building Trades Unions. McGarvey
and Terry O’Sullivan, the president of laborers’ union LiUNA,
met with Trump in January and spoke about infrastructure.

“I felt coming out of that conversation the president’s
desire to move quickly on it,” McGarvey said. But, he added, a
crowded agenda in Congress “might be putting a little bit of a
reality check on it.”

Trump promised often during his campaign last year he would
seek a trillion-dollar infrastructure program to create jobs and
fix crumbling airports, bridges and roads, and he said Monday he
planned to raise the issue in an address to Congress Tuesday
night.

However, infrastructure spending is fighting for space on
Congress’s agenda with immigration, taxes, overhaul of the
Affordable Care Act and a Supreme Court nomination.

Against that backdrop, unions and business groups are
setting aside their differences on a host of issues to work
together to revive momentum for substantial infrastructure
spending.

Infrastructure spending is one issue where Democratic union
leaders, Republican business executives and the Trump
administration share common ground.

LiUNA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents
business interests, are collaborating through a chamber-led
group called Americans for Transportation Mobility. LiUNA also
is working with a lobbying group for big construction employers
through a group called the Transportation Construction
Coalition.

The Associated General Contractors of America has increased
its budget for advocacy for new infrastructure measures by 25
percent, from $800,000 last year to $1 million this year. A
December radio interview blitz was planned to catch lawmakers in
their home districts for the holidays. And the association is
using the monthly release of jobs data to travel to places where
construction employment has lagged.

When O’Sullivan and McGarvey met with Trump in January, the
conversation included specific projects such as the Keystone XL
and the Dakota access pipelines, bridges, schools, hospitals and
a wide variety of other projects, McGarvey said in a press call
at the time.

“We’ve had pretty regular communications since our meeting,”
including top policy aide Stephen Miller and his staff, about
twice a week, McGarvey told Reuters.

Still, the administration has not put forward a specific
plan, and congressional leaders have not committed to action
this year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, told
reporters recently that he expects “some kind of recommendation
on an infrastructure bill,” though he gave no other details.

“It may not be a slam dunk to get anything done,” said
Matthew Miller, an equity analyst with CFRA.

A Trump administration official said the White House is
still weighing how infrastructure can best add economic
capacity, as well as how to measure that.

“Initially what we’re trying to do is make sure we’re
thinking expansively and creatively,” an administration official
said, including identifying how new technology such as drones
and autonomous vehicles can help go beyond merely replacing
aging infrastructure.

“There’s enormous potential gains,” the official said,
adding that the president will likely have more meetings with
union and business leaders on the topic.

United Auto Workers union president Dennis Williams earlier
this month defended the building trades union leaders who met
with the Republican president.

“The building trades are after jobs,” Williams said. “I
don’t think they are going to walk away from the labor movement
because they had a meeting with Trump.”

The pro-infrastructure groups are adapting their traditional
tactics to the Trump White House. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
is redirecting more of its efforts to social media, hiring more
staff to send messages through Facebook and Twitter.

“Even five years ago it used to be you bought an ad in the
Washington Post or the New York Times and that’s how you get
your message across,” said Ed Mortimer, the executive director
of transportation infrastructure at the chamber. “I did a
Facebook live a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t even know what
Facebook live was.”



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