May 12, 2015

In just over 100 days, the 114th Congress has broken through the gridlock and found bold solutions for major legislative issues, including the historic entitlement reform to repeal the flawed Medicare “doc-fix” once and for all. 

The House of Representatives alone has passed more than 80 bills, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline Act, legislation to repeal the death tax, a package of reforms to stop human trafficking, and a budget that balances in less than 10 years. Congress has made progress, but this is just the beginning – we believe there is an opportunity to tackle two of the critical issues facing our nation at once in the coming months.

As the only two members of both the House Judiciary and the House Transportation and Infrastructure committees, we have been working towards funding a long-term highway bill and addressing the need for specialized, high-skilled workers. As we examined the specifics, we identified a nearly perfect win-win scenario in how these two priorities converge. 

With the highway bill set to expire at the end of May, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is looking for ways to fund America’s vital infrastructure and to modernize our crumbling national transportation system. Congress cannot continue to pass short term patches that do nothing to address the underlying problem, and we can't afford more taxes. With no clear alternative before us, we decided to take a look at the economic impact of the high-skilled worker program coming before the Judiciary Committee as a possible solution.

The SKILLS Visa Act, which will soon be reintroduced by subcommittee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), would meet a dire need for highly skilled and specialized workers while ensuring that our nation retains the best and brightest talent we educate. The bill would end our current practice of educating foreign-born students in technical fields at our premiere universities and then sending them home to compete with U.S. businesses. It also provides our innovative companies with the talent they desperately need to compete on the world marketplace but cannot find domestically. Furthermore, several studies have shown that these highly technical workers have a multiplier effect that creates significantly more jobs for Americans and more productivity for our tech sector.

Not only will the SKILLS Visa Act spur economic growth and bolster American competitiveness, it would also generate substantial revenue which could be used to fund a long-term transportation bill. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation estimate that the SKILLS Act will provide $110 billion in federal revenue over the next 10 years which would nearly meet the funding required for a highway bill. This solution would allow us to move our infrastructure into the 21st Century and keep a 21st Century workforce in America without adding to our already outrageous $18 trillion dollar national debt. 

While our solution isn’t orthodox, it is exactly the sort of long-term, common-sense plan that Congress needs to enact. It creates jobs, strengthens our economy, and builds the infrastructure we need, all with no tax increases. Better yet, the second 10-year period of the SKILLS Visa Act is projected to yield an additional $400 billion in revenue. This estimated $500 billion plus in federal revenues over the next 20 years would rejuvenate the Highway Trust Fund and give us more flexibility to keep American people and freight moving on a world-class transportation network.

This 21st century alliance between high-tech jobs and the Highway Trust Fund can pave a path to expand our economy, spur job growth, and maintain our nation’s competitive edge in innovative fields and transportation where we have traditionally excelled. Congress has a lot of work ahead, but we’re ready to work towards solutions that mirror the creativity and innovation that truly make our country the best in the world.

Walters has represented California’s 45th Congressional District since 2015. She sits on the Judiciary and the Transportation committees. Farenthold has represented Texas’ 27th Congressional District since 2011. He sits on the Judiciary; the Oversight and Government Reform; and the Transportation committees.

Read the original article published in The Hill here.