Washington Report: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

by Patty Power, ACPA Washington Advocate

As we prepare to leave 2020, the view in the rearview mirror is cloudy. By all measures, this has been a tough year. The upheaval to our way of life caused by the COVID- 19 pandemic—particularly the heavy cost to hundreds of thousands American families who lost loved ones—will continue through 2021. The medical community’s predictions of increasing infections and deaths are coming true. Dr. Fauci now says we may reach 500,000 COVID-19 related deaths by March 2021. Mitigation measures needed to limit the virus’s spread will continue to disrupt the economy. While it is hard to foresee recovery when still facing such hard times, the remarkable success seen in developing and approving a number of vaccines is a true bright spot. While it will take months to vaccinate enough Americans to create effective herd immunity and allow our society to start the recovery process, we can see the end from here.

In the midst of the pandemic, more citizens voted in the national election than have ever voted in a single election before—with unprecedented numbers voting early and by mail. Yet the election’s outcome revealed that our deeply divided political system reflects a deeply divided electorate. The Democrats reclaimed the White House and retained the House. The control of the Senate will be determined in a runoff election in Georgia for both of the state’s Senate seats on January 5. Regardless of the outcome of that election, however, the margins in the House and Senate will be tight and will require the Biden-Harris Administration to work across the aisle to accomplish its priorities.

What Lies Ahead

What should we expect from the Biden-Harris Administration? A singular focus on COVID, initially on economic relief and vaccine distribution, soon to be followed by COVID stimulus. President-Elect Biden’s experience with the 2009 recovery will help guide his administration’s approach to COVID stimulus. Then, a small percentage of the ARRA stimulus supported “shovel ready” infrastructure projects. That was a lost opportunity to create good construction jobs and long-lasting economically beneficial infrastructure projects. COVID stimulus will be needed to help restore the millions of businesses and jobs lost throughout the pandemic, including infrastructure funding. We are working with our NACA partners in the concrete industry to deliver this message to Congress.

Once COVID challenges are under control, the Biden-Harris transition has outlined the “Build Back Better” plan. This plan “will launch a national effort aimed at creating the jobs we need to build a modern, sustainable infrastructure now and deliver an equitable clean energy future.” The plan calls for a $2-trillion accelerated investment to employ millions of construction workers, skilled trades and engineers to build new sustainable, resilient infrastructure with “clean steel and cement.” The plan includes a laundry list of projects—roads, bridges, rail, airports, ports, inland waterways, buildings, drinking and waste water projects, broadband, power plants, landfills, and blight and brownfield revitalization. This comprehensive plan clearly contains many opportunities for the concrete pumping industry to contribute to its ultimate success.

Congressional Activity

In the meantime, we expect a lot of activity at the close of the 116th Congress. The 60th consecutive annual National Defense Authorization Act will be finalized before Congress adjourns. The federal fiscal year 2021 budget may be finalized in an omnibus bill—that is, all the individual appropriations bills rolled into one comprehensive bill. It is likely that the Water Resources Development Act and a COVID relief bill will be included in the omnibus package. Please note that while this is the situation at press time, there is a chance that not all of these bills will pass both houses of Congress and be signed by the President.

Of particular interest to our members in the current package of the COVID relief bill are two sections. First is additional financial help for small business impacted by COVID, including an option to get a second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. Second are liability protections for business—the details of this section are being debated at press time.

I wish you and your families a healthy and happy 2020 holiday season.

The Build Back Better plan will create infrastructure jobs and promote a future of clean energy.