BY STEVE ISRAEL
Congressman, NY 3rd District
As government is hurtling toward a shutdown, it’s important to remind ourselves of a time when Congress was able to work together in a crisis situation.
Last week, we marked the fifth anniversary of the day when our economy almost failed and our country found itself in one of the worst recessions we’ve experienced. Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi made an ominous phone call to then-Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson. Used to receiving a weekly update on the country’s economic situation, she found it odd that she had not heard from him. So she placed a call to the Secretary and asked him to come the next morning to brief Congressional leadership.
Secretary Paulson’s response was absolutely stunning: “Madam Speaker, tomorrow morning will be too late.”
So later that evening a meeting was convened with both Democratic and Republican leaders from the House and Senate. And Secretary Paulson described the nightmare scenario: the total meltdown of the U.S. economy.
We were stunned, and Congress took swift action. Democrat or Republican, it didn’t matter. This was about averting a crisis and saving our economy. Leaders of both parties pledged unanimous support to finding a solution.
Secretary Paulson proposed a solution in the form of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. It was clear that, despite the urgent need to act, this bill was not too popular, carried a hefty price tag and its passage was by no means a sure thing.
When the bill failed the first time, the markets reacted accordingly and the Dow dropped 778 points, the single largest one-day drop in the index’s history. I wish we could say we were surprised, but we knew this would happen as a result of inaction. In that day, more than $1.2 trillion in market value was erased from American equities.
It wasn’t just the banks that were hurt that day – Americans lost huge amounts of money they had invested for their children’s educations and their own retirements. On the second attempt, just a few days later, the bill passed and the wheels were set in motion for the financial rescue of our nation’s economy.
I hope my colleagues keep this in mind as we weigh critical budget decisions in the coming weeks. With a Republican President and a Democratic Congress five years ago, we were still able to pass legislation for the good of our nation’s economy. Tea Party Republicans today should take heed: The risks are too great to American businesses and families to play politics with the debt ceiling and critical investments.
One such critical investment that I believe is worth us going beyond the politics of the moment and is central to our economy’s recovery is our crumbling infrastructure. I have been a leader on this issue, and I firmly believe that we must work to evolve our systems of transportation for the 21st century.
In July, President Obama joked in a speech that 100,000 bridges in the U.S. are old enough to qualify for Medicare. And in March, the American Society of Civil Engineers graded America’s infrastructure at a D+. That’s downright embarrassing.
Fifty-seven years ago, Congress passed legislation to create the Interstate Highway System, which still constitutes the single largest highway system in the world. This was one of the largest infrastructure projects ever undertaken, and showed that when we put our minds to something momentous, we can achieve it.
Investing in infrastructure also makes economic sense. Every dollar creates up to six dollars in economic activity, and every billion dollars creates up to 50,000 new jobs.
In the big picture, we still have a long way to go to move our nation back to where it was: at the forefront of advancement, and never afraid to unite to find solutions to literally build a better nation for its citizens. How do we get back to that? Compromise.
Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, we all rely on the same infrastructure and we all function within the same economy.
If you own a business, and you have a business partner that you have a disagreement with, you wouldn’t just shut down the business. You find a solution. In the weeks ahead, I hope that some of my colleagues in Congress remember this important lesson and learn from this approach. Compromise and solutions are what will drive our country forward.