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Bridges don’t build themselves: How Democrats’ spending flop hurts their infrastructure win

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Bridges don’t build themselves: How Democrats’ spending flop hurts their infrastructure win

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More than 10 million job openings remain unfilled across the country – a labor shortage that could undermine Democrats’ work to improve the nation’s infrastructure and their chances of controlling Congress as Republicans vie to overthrow both chambers in November.

Stalled in their attempts to pass major electoral reform and social spending legislation, Democrats are emphasizing the bills they have already passed, namely pandemic relief and the infrastructure. But it’s a tricky talking point during the campaign with no real progress to show.

Biden administration heads, eager to spend the first tranches of infrastructure money, have started talking logistics with industry leaders like Randy Pacheco, the owner of a New Mexico company that clog abandoned oil wells.

“It’s a huge — huge — pressure that’s going to create. How are you going to spend the money? Pacheco said in an interview this week. “We don’t have a skilled workforce. We don’t even have training for that.

Pacheco delivered the same message to federal officials this month at an Interior Department meeting to begin rapidly spending nearly $5 billion to plug about 130,000 such wells in 26 states.

Getting the infrastructure work done is doable “if you run into the fire,” said Landrieu, a former mayor of New Orleans and former lieutenant governor of Louisiana. “And one of the fires is: Do we have enough people? … How do we create workforce training programs? How can we build capacity? »

The infrastructure bill includes funds for worker training, including $32 million to ensure that more people are certified to drive commercial vehicles and trained to enforce the rules for operating these heavy machines. It also paid $40 million to train workers to conduct energy audits and $20 million for education on modern, energy-efficient building technologies.

Yet that money pales in comparison to the funds languishing in the $1.7 trillion social spending package that Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) single-handedly shelved last month. The so-called Build Back Better Act would spend nearly $14 billion on Department of Labor workforce efforts, like apprenticeship programs to train workers for in-demand jobs like welding, more more than $6 billion for Department of Education efforts, including $5 billion to run community college programs that partner with businesses like pouring concrete.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in an interview this week that he “still hopes” the social spending package and its “significant investment in skills training money” can move forward despite the uncertain path of the legislation. While Manchin’s opposition has sent this bill back to the drawing board, Democratic leaders continue to hope they can pass a smaller version.

Before the infrastructure package reached final passage, the White House made it clear that the job-creating potential of the legislation tied directly to Biden’s other major spending plan. “Combined with the president’s reconstruction framework,” the infrastructure bill “will add an average of 1.5 million jobs per year over the next 10 years,” the White House said in November.

Andy Van Kleunen, who heads the National Skills Coalition, a skills training advocacy organization, said demand for infrastructure work simply outstrips capacity, “even if we take all the resources that are in the system current workforce and that we dedicate them to training people for the infrastructure works.”

“We need the additional resources from Build Back Better in order to be able to meet all of the demand that we think the infrastructure package is going to require,” Van Kleunen said.

It’s a familiar dilemma for Biden, who was vice president when labor shortages stifled former President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus execution in 2009.

“They don’t want to end up like the Obama administration, which promised ready-made projects that weren’t,” said Nicole Smith, chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Besides the social spending package, there is another major funding bill that could boost worker training programs this year. If Democrats and Republicans can strike a budget deal to fund federal agencies through the fall, that government funding package will likely increase spending on job training programs.

Democrats are asking for $12 billion for the Department of Labor agency that runs jobs and training programs, a 16% increase. They also want nearly $103 billion in funding for the Department of Education, an increase of almost 40% over current spending, including a 10% increase in cash for career and technical education. .

All of that money is “interconnected,” said Rep. David Price (DN.C.), who chairs the Transportation-HUD spending panel.

“A lot of major infrastructure measures depend on this appropriation bill,” Price said. “They’re intertwined. And no matter what happens with anything else, we need to not only keep government open, but also embrace the investments we’ve made in these bills.”

Heather Richards contributed to this report.

Bridges don’t build themselves: How Democrats’ spending flop hurts their infrastructure win

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