If you have been watching any of the recent post-election coverage, you probably noticed the scaffolding around the Capitol Dome. It’s the first restoration project since 1960 on the cast iron dome, which is more than 150 years old. The Dome may be under repair on the outside, but the real restoration needs to be done on the inside.
We are entering about a six-month window when the new Congress has the opportunity to pass meaningful legislation. After that, the window starts to close as the 2016 campaign begins to alter the landscape.
So now is the time to pass some legislation that will make a difference. Politicians and pundits often misread the tea leaves after a one-sided win and proclaim mandates for this and that. They are usually wrong. It’s true that the voters were expressing dissatisfaction with the Obama agenda. But they were also sending a serious message to Congress: Do something meaningful and do it now.
In the spirit of the lame duck season, here are three steps that can start the restoration process inside the Dome.
- When it convenes in January, the Senate should pass and President Obama should sign the Keystone XL Pipeline legislation. The fact is, we have an estimated 2.6 million miles of oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing the country right now. Another 1,200 miles doesn’t make a dent and the environmental impact of a Keystone pipeline would be negligible, according to a massive State Department report earlier in the year. Approve the pipeline and it shows that Congress and the President can work together. It’s a start.
- Transportation bill. While transportation funding was extended last summer to May 30, 2015, Congress really needs to pass a long-term bill so that DOTs can have some certainty in planning. They also need to fix the gap between the revenue collected by the Highway Trust Fund and the actual costs laid out in the transportation bill. The shortfall will be somewhere north of $15 billion next year if nothing is done. It is an annual problem that will only grow worse. There is bipartisan support for a fix and strong leadership in both the House and Senate on the key committees that can craft the legislation. Congress should find the revenue to support the nation’s transportation needs before the next election cycle starts. Let’s work together and get something done. There is no better time than now.
- Invest in infrastructure. In the recent election, voters in California, Hawaii, Maryland, Rhode Island, Texas and Wisconsin approved ballot measures to build or repair transportation, water or utility infrastructure. We need a federal vision, whether it incorporates public-private partnerships, an infrastructure bank or other creative concepts, to build on the momentum created in some of our states.
Facing a cynical public, both the Republications and Democrats need a win. Obama needs a win. But more importantly, the nation needs a win. Pass something that will make a difference in the lives of working Americans. Do it now.