Partisan rancor and legislative deadlock in Congress continued to dominate the headlines in 2015. However, it hasn’t been all bad news out of Washington, D.C., this year. In fact, Congress both started and ended 2015 with significant bipartisan compromises on legislation critical to continuing economic growth in New England and across the nation.
The first piece of legislation enacted by Congress in January was a bill to reauthorize the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, or TRIA. Originally passed in 2002 after the September 11th attacks, TRIA acts as a government-backed stopgap in the case of a major terrorist attack. Its fundamental goal is to ensure that businesses have access to terrorism insurance, so that in the event of an attack, construction projects can proceed, businesses of all sizes can remain open, and commerce does not come to a screeching halt. The bill passed in January — by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in both the House and the Senate — reauthorizing TRIA for six years through 2020 and providing an important measure of certainty to the American economy.
Congress went on to spend a significant portion of the year working on a long-term reauthorization of federal surface transportation funding, often referred to as the highway bill. For the past 10 years, Congress has “kicked the can down the road” with repeated short-term reauthorizations of the highway bill. The New England Council and many other organizations have for years called on Congress to enact a long-term reauthorization that would not only address some of our region’s most critical transportation and infrastructure challenges, but that would also provide certainty for business and spur job creation. Just a few weeks ago, Congress at long last did just that, passing the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, a five-year reauthorization of our nation’s highway, bridge, transit, safety, and passenger rail programs.
Included in the FAST Act was another measure that The New England Council believes is key to continued economic growth in our region: the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States (ExIm Bank). The ExIm Bank is the official export credit agency of the United States, whose mission is to assist in financing the export of U.S. goods and services to international markets. In just the six New England states alone, the ExIm Bank supported more than $6.6 billion in exports between 2009 and 2014. Unfortunately, because of a lack of congressional action earlier in the year and opposition from a small but vocal minority, the ExIm Bank’s charter expired at the end of June 2015. Fortunately, after much urging from the business community over the past year, leaders in the House and Senate agreed to a measure extending the charter of the ExIm Bank for a period of four years, through September 2019, and making several reforms to address concerns about the bank’s operation. As a result, the ExIm Bank’s doors have reopened and the bank will continue to help American business access key foreign markets.
All three of these measures are of critical importance to New England’s economic well-being. It is important to note that all were passed with broad, bipartisan majorities, including support from many members of the New England House and Senate delegations. We are hopeful that these instances of compromise and across-the-aisle collaboration are a sign of things to come in the New Year. Our region’s and, indeed, our nation’s continued economic growth and prosperity depend on it.
James T. Brett is the president and CEO of The New England Council.
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