When it comes to backing the
notion of government intervention in the marketplace, business
leaders in the metals industry have just three words for
Washington: infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure.
Throughout 2011, and especially
this summer, calls have come from metals players for
infrastructure investment to help lift the U.S. economy out of
its continuing doldrums. What they want is a mixture of public
investment, aggressive deregulation, generous tax policy and
That viewpoint hasnt
changed much since January 2009, when President Obama took
office amid an optimistic clamor that he would usher in a
series of programs that would revive demand for steel, aluminum
and other metals as part of his overall plans for economic
recoverya sort of New Deal for the 21st Century.
What the nation needed, many
economists and manufacturing sector analysts said at the time,
was an aggressive plan to put people back to work rebuilding
roads, bridges, schools, advanced manufacturingjust the
sort of projects that require tons of metal.
What the nation got was a
watered-downed, half-measure chimera called the American
Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a.k.a. The Stimulus. But its
spending levels werent nearly big enough to counter the
losses created by the Great Recession at the end of the Bush
presidency and years of reckless congressional fiscal policy.
Furthermore, its focus was blurry, putting most of its efforts
on tax cuts and entitlement program enhancements, leaving a
shockingly little amount for actual construction and
Robert Weidner, president and
chief executive officer of the Metals Service Center Institute,
may well have been speaking for dozens of metals industry
leaders in a variety of sectors (see story, page 26)
when he said: "The reality is that the economic stimulus
program has had a negligible impact on the service center
The stimulus package may
ultimately prove to be the Achilles heel of the Obama
administration. The President has been assailed from right and
left for his failure to gain lasting economic momentum. Yes,
the stimulus spending probably kept things from getting much
worse, but it didnt do enough to make things much better,
And beyond the purely political
realm, the business community hasnt been silent, either.
Manufacturers have been waiting for the economy to turn the
corner and, in light of the failure to do so, the government to
put the whip to the economic team of horses.
"There is no question that if
the money spent on the economic stimulus program was invested
instead in the nations infrastructure, it would have
probably created more jobs and helped the country and the U.S.
service center industry more," Weidner said.
Although there is still some
stimulus money yet to be spent, no one seriously believes that
it will be enough to fulfill the promises made two years ago
when it was first passed and implemented. So if the stimulus is
too little and, now, too late, what if anything can still get
the job done?
There are two possibilities
still on the table. One is the surface transportation
reauthorization bill. Although it has yet to make its way
through Congress, there is still a chance something could
happen this year. Some form of such a bill would commit
millions or perhaps billions of dollars toward construction
projects, many of which would benefit metals industries.
The other possibility, perhaps
more important, is something that the American Iron and Steel
Institute and the Steel Manufacturers Association both support:
the Infrastructure Jobs and Energy Independence Act (H.R.1863),
which focuses on expanding access to Americas domestic
oil and natural gas resources and on rebuilding the U.S.
transportation system. It, too, is stalled in the gridlock of
That something must be done is
hard to dispute. The economy remains fragile, and around every
corner looms the potential of another downturn. The
unemployment rate remains high. Foreign competition continues
to erode domestic gains. The housing crisis is still draining
resources and hopes.
We need renewed infrastructure,
not just in the literal sense of buildings and roads but in the
figurative sense of restoring faith in government, business and
the ability of the U.S. economy to help create a better future
for all citizens. The President must begin showing true
leadership if that is to happen.