With federal workers furloughed, swaths of the government derailed, threats of impeachment and overheated rhetoric about immigration filling the air, it’s tempting to despair of anything productive happening this season in Washington. Yet the change of control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats brings a new opportunity for the Democratic-dominated New England delegation to drive an agenda that will benefit the regional economy and business climate. Members should seize it.
Without a doubt, Congress’s top priority is to get the government running again, finding some path that removes the current impediment — President Trump’s insistence on greater spending for border security.
But once that is done, New England’s representatives in Congress should pull together to accomplish some important and achievable goals that would benefit the region. Certainly they can promote goals that could win bipartisan support, rising above the partisan bickering and delivering results that would outlast whatever subject is dominating the news cycle on any given day.
As The New England Council CEO James Brett wrote on these pages (“New England’s stake in new Congress,” Commentary, Jan. 7), it makes sense for New England’s newly empowered delegation to focus on three economic priorities: Promoting trade; funding infrastructure projects; and funding research. None of these are particularly polarizing, which means they have lower political hurdles to clear, and all of them can produce lasting benefits for New England.
In terms of trade, New England benefits from its commercial relationships with both Canada and Mexico, to which it exports $8.3 billion in goods to Canada and $4.4 billion to Mexico, according to Mr. Brett. And that doesn’t include the exports of services which are increasingly important to trade calculations. The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, taking the place of the North American Free Trade Agreement, may not be as significant as President Trump suggests, but the deal merits approval in New England and elsewhere. New England depends heavily on trade with Canada.
Regarding infrastructure: Consider the finding by the American Society of Highway Engineers that one in every five miles of highway is in poor condition, that Rhode Island drivers pay about $810 a year because of the state’s poor roads, that 25 percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient and that New England’s harsh winters hasten the deterioration of its roads. It is clear that standing still on maintaining and improving the region’s infrastructure is actually going backwards. This should be an area of bipartisan agreement and that the region’s Democratic lawmakers can drive toward a solution.
And finally, Mr. Brett notes that the National Institutes of Health funded $3.64 billion of research in New England two years ago, including work that supported more than 2,000 research jobs in Rhode Island. This is a no-brainer: The delegation should support continued research funding, which ultimately more than pays for itself in new technology and better lives for our citizens. That means supporting the budgets of the NIH, the National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and others who pay for research.
By focusing on these areas of broad agreement, New England’s lawmakers can rise above the current political tumult and produce lasting benefits to the six states of New England — and to America.