America’s mayors have one message for Washington: you need our help to solve the country’s problems.
“We’re not a special interest group, we’re the best partner that they have to deliver to our identical taxpayers services that are much, much needed,” said Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans and president of The United States Conference of Mayors in an interview with POLITICO.
Landrieu and other members of the conference met with senators and staff during a trip to Washington earlier this week, pushing three priorities that affect urban and suburban Americans: tax reform, infrastructure and health care.
“If you need an aircraft carrier, it is great that we have the federal government. If you need a driver’s license, I’m really glad the state can take care of that,” said John Giles, the mayor of Mesa, Arizona. “Nearly every other service that people receive from government on a daily basis comes by and through the cities.”
The United States Conference of Mayors is a bipartisan organization that includes both Democratic and Republican mayors.
Members of the conference expressed frustration with the lack of progress in Washington D.C, both in Congress and from the Trump administration. They blamed the secretive legislative process under which recent laws have been drafted for the inaction, including the GOP’s health care reform attempts.
“I think the answer is we all need to be a little more collaborative,” said Giles. “We need to reject the model that the federal government has kind of fallen into, particularly in the last year or so, of taking a small group of men and sending them into a room and closing the door and thinking that’s the best way to solve the problem.”
The conference — which met with the offices of Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lamar Alexandar (R-Tenn.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) — says they received no specific promises on legislation on their initiatives.
They also laid some of the blame at the feet of the Trump administration. The Trump administration’s stances on a wide range of issues, from climate change to immigration and sanctuary cities run counter to the conference’s proposed agenda.
Trump in turn has attacked mayors, saying some have stood in the way of law enforcement officers, preventing them from doing a good job in a speech on Long Island last week, while messaging from both the Hill and the administration has remained disjointed.
“My observation is people around today are walking around in a daze in the Capitol. Because they haven’t seen anything like this — the last six months — before,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. “When we’re talking about the need to focus on a growing crisis like the opioid epidemic and you’re kind of punch-drunk walking around the halls of Congress, how do you marshal everybody’s attention to do that? People are trying to figure out this new era.”
But the conference has seen some promising signs in recent weeks. The failure of the GOP “skinny repeal” was cheered by the conference, and the mayors and Trump administration both agree on the necessity to rebuild the country’s infrastructure.
Landrieu hoped that national lawmakers will return to “back to regular order” on health care reform following the failed attempt, praising the bipartisan moves that have emerged since last week’s dramatic early-morning vote. He hopes that a bipartisan health care approach will serve as a model for other hot button issues.
Mayors also pushed for the federal government to entrust more resources and support directly to cities to combat national problems like the opioid crisis, because they say cities are better suited to adapt to the specific concerns of their community than a slower moving federal program.
“Right now cities are piecing it together through general funds, through local philanthropy, but the demand for the services is just overwhelming the supply of what’s available,” Fischer said, adding that block grants directly to cities and experimental pilot programs could help stem the opioid addiction crisis. “Our fear at the city level is that this is just getting much bigger, much faster and then you have a plodding federal government.”
The conference pledged to be a continued presence in Washington, pushing lawmakers to work from the bottom up to address the opioid crisis and other national problems. Mayors said the most effective way to tackle these large problems would be to work in local governments earlier in the process because ultimately, local governments are the ones that interact most with citizens.
“We don’t have the luxury of walking away,” Landrieu said. “We’re the generals on the field, on the ground, actually making it happen and suffering the consequences or benefitting from the choices or being hurt by the ones that Congress makes. We’re here to educate them and to offer our hand in constructive partnership.”