President Obama only gave a brief nod to his trade agenda in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night. But it is a priority that has a strong likelihood of becoming law because trade, unlike most of his other proposals, also draws support from both the Republican leadership in Congress and the powerful business lobby.
But there’s another initiative the president talked up that could thread a similar needle. He also used his bully pulpit to tweak Republicans for fixating on building the Keystone XL pipeline, the 1,100 mile spigot that would carry crude from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Instead, he exhorted them to rally along with Democrats around an infrastructure spending plan that he said “could create more than thirty times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come” while rebuilding crumbling roads, bridges and ports.
Indeed, infrastructure improvements draw broad support from pressure groups across the ideological spectrum. NAM president Jay Timmons brought it up, unprompted, earlier Tuesday in an interview with Fortune, as an area of agreement between business interests and the AFL-CIO. The question, of course, is how to pay for the projects. Transportation funding runs out later this year, a possible forcing mechanism for Congress to consider longer-term solutions. Republicans this year have signaled they may be willing to reconsider their longstanding opposition to raising the gas tax as one way to pay for new infrastructure investments. Call it another crack in the dam — or better yet, don’t.