Government

Infrastructure spending will yield jobs, Democratic hopefuls say

8 presidential candidates address unions at Cedar Rapids fish fry

CEDAR RAPIDS — Eight Democratic presidential hopefuls voiced a broad consensus Saturday to spend at least $2 trillion on a national infrastructure plan.

Although they were less definitive about how to fund their plans and where the money would be spent, their message at a “Conversation about Infrastructure and Jobs” forum co-hosted by Iowa U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer and seven labor unions was clear: Rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure goes hand-in-hand with rebuilding the middle class.

That means jobs for union members and as Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar explained, “When union workers do better, everyone does better.”

One after the other, New Jersey U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Maryland U.S. Rep. John Delaney joined Klobuchar in promising federal infrastructure funds would support union jobs because, they said, unions built the middle class in the first place, and can rebuild the middle class now.

“Today was a really big deal,” Finkenauer said about the event that drew about 900 people who ate more than 600 pounds of walleye, according to the Finkenauer campaign. “To hear them today talk about the issues that I know matter to my constituents, that’s makes a big difference. What you saw today, with the focus on infrastructure and jobs, regardless who the candidates is, they care.

“And quite frankly, we have them on record now today saying they are going to get it done,” the 1st District congresswoman told reporters.

Candidates laced their comments about infrastructure and jobs with criticism of President Donald Trump, who campaigned on building the nation’s infrastructure but, so far, has not delivered. Although he struck a deal with Democratic congressional leaders on a $2 trillion plan to upgrade roads, bridges and broadband back in April, there has been little action on fleshing out the plan and winning congressional approve.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The president’s efforts to repeal the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, win a tax cut and, more recently, the Democrats’ impeachment investigation, have pushed infrastructure from atop the agenda.

But that won’t be the case if a Democrat is elected president, the candidates promised.

“Infrastructure has to be the No. 1 domestic priority of the next president,” Delaney said, because it will create middle-class jobs, make the nation more competitive and improve Americans’ quality of life.

There’s an urgent national security need to invest in infrastructure because everything from the nation’s electrical grid “to the well-being of our communities depends on infrastructure,” Booker said. It’s also common sense that the nations that invest in infrastructure will fare better, he said.

Right now, he said, China is investing 9 percent of its gross domestic product in infrastructure and Europe is investing 5 percent. The United States is investing less than half that.

“Our infrastructure is collapsing. This is an investment that is long overdue,” he said.

The candidates’ infrastructure plans weren’t about just roads and bridges. They focused attention on the need for high-quality, high-speed internet everywhere.

Sanders, for example, called broadband a “basic human necessity of life today” and the lack of high-quality internet access is one reason for the “massive depopulation of rural areas.”

Access to broadband in every rural community in America “has a significant impact on whether or not we can compete, can you attract small manufacturers, can you attract people coming in and building facilities in your small town,” Biden said.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“You can’t do it unless you can get there. You can’t do it unless when you get there, you have access to the rest of the world,” he said.

Lack of high-speed internet is a factor in hospital closings and shorter life expectancies for rural residents, the candidates said.

People should be able to build a secure economic future regardless of their ZIP code, Warren said. That includes keeping rural hospitals “vital and open.”

“Every time a local hospital closes, a family says ‘I can’t go there because they won’t be able to deliver babies,” she said. “Seniors say, ‘I’m not sure I can stay here because it’s too far away from a hospital if someone has chest pains.’ We’ve got to keep our rural hospitals open.”

The lack of broadband access and federal investment in rural communities has increased the rural-urban divide, Buttigieg said. As recently as 50 or fewer years ago, life expectancy was the same whether a person lived in a city or rural area.

“Now it is at the biggest gap in more than a half century,” he said. “We see it in access to health care and the way medical providers are disappearing and hospitals are closing.”

The need for infrastructure investment extends to education, Harris said. She pledged $100 billion for improving school infrastructure and promised to begin closing the pay gap between teachers and similarly educated professionals. In Iowa, she said, that’s $12,200 a year.

The Democrats expressed disappointment in Trump’s failure to act on infrastructure in the two years he had a GOP-controlled Congress. Regardless who is president, they said, investing in infrastructure is one thing members of both parties sees as a need and priority.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“This is not a partisan issue. It is not left-right. It is forward or we continue to fall backward,” Booker said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.