On a day of filibuster drama on the Senate floor, a subcommittee got its hands dirty on the less glamorous but no less important topic of fixing the nation's infrastructure.
Amid debate over fiscal policy, foreign policy, health care and immigration, the U.S. continues to fall behind its peers in infrastructure investment. Two things aren't helping: Traditional sources of transportation funding have almost dried up, and Congress can't agree on a long-term replacement.
"All of these sources are not keeping up with all of our needs," said former Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, a Democrat who led the department under President George W. Bush.
Private sector companies are willing to step up. Pension funds are investing in infrastructure projects, as are Wall Street firms.
The Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security called witnesses from across the transportation spectrum, and they all had one message: private capital could be leveraged to fund infrastructure projects, but everyone does a lousy job of talking about how to do it.
"Both the public and private sectors have not been successful in communicating with one another about innovative financing models," Mineta said.
There have been some inroads.
Carlyle Group, an investment firm, is spending $130 million to rebuild 23 highway rest areas in Connecticut.
A $1 billion tunnel connecting the Port of Miami with major highways has public and private financing.
Two new interstate bridges across the Ohio River between Kentucky and Indiana will be partially financed by private capital, with tolls to recover the investment on the $4 billion project.
But bridging different federal, state and local policies complicates the effort, and that leaves many potential sources of financing on the sidelines while traditional sources dwindle.
"If we don't find a way to stimulate private financing, our nation's infrastructure will continue to decline," said Robert Dove, managing director of Carlyle's $1.2 billion infrastructure fund.
Pension funds and private firms are eager to invest in infrastructure, but they need more certainty than Congress is currently providing. And if they don't get it, they may take their business overseas.
"These investors can spend their money anywhere they want," said J. Perry Offutt, head of infrastructure investment banking in the Americas for Morgan Stanley.