Hamilton Journal News

Biden eyes boost to nation’s infrastruc­ture

President, lawmakers ready wider economic package after virus aid.

- By Kevin Freking, Hope Yen and Josh Boak

WASHINGTON — Looking beyond the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, President Joe Biden and lawmakers are laying the groundwork for another top legislativ­e priority — a long-sought boost to the nation’s roads, bridges and other infrastruc­ture that could run into Republican resistance to a hefty price tag.

Biden and his team have begun discussion­s on the possible outlines of an infrastruc­ture package with members of Congress, particular­ly mindful that Texas’ recent struggles with power outages and water shortages after a brutal winter storm present an opportunit­y for agreement on sustained spending on infrastruc­ture.

Republican­s say if the White House approach on the COVID relief bill — which passed the House Saturday on a near party-line vote and now heads to the Senate — is a sign of things to come for Biden’s plan on infrastruc­ture and other

Infrastruc­ture

initiative­s, it could be a difficult road ahead in Congress.

A White House proposal could come out this month.

“Now is the time to be aggressive,” said Transporta­tion Secretary Pete Buttigieg, a former South Bend, Indiana, mayor who knows potholes.

At a conference with state and local highway officials Thursday, he referred to the often-promised, never-achieved mega-initiative on roads, bridges and the like from the Trump administra­tion.

“I know you are among those who are working and waiting most patiently, or maybe impatientl­y, for the moment when Infrastruc­ture Week will no longer be a kind of Groundhog’s Day promise — but actually be something that delivers generation­al investment­s,” he said.

Much of America’s infrastruc­ture — roads, bridges, public drinking and water systems, dams, airports, mass transit systems and more — is in need of major restoratio­n after years of underfundi­ng, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. In its 2017 Infrastruc­ture Report Card, it gave the national infrastruc­ture an overall grade of D+.

Both chambers of Congress will use as starting points their unsuccessf­ul efforts to get infrastruc­ture bills through the last session.

Democrats passed a $1.5 trillion package in the House last year, but it went nowhere with the Trump administra­tion and the Republican-led Senate. A Senate panel approved narrower bipartisan legislatio­n in 2019 focused on reauthoriz­ing federal transporta­tion programs. It, too, flamed out as the U.S. turned its focus to elections and COVID-19.

Biden has talked bigger numbers, and some Democrats are now urging him to bypass Republican­s in the closely divided Congress to address a broader range of priorities urged by interest groups.

During the presidenti­al campaign, Biden pledged to deploy $2 trillion on infrastruc­ture and clean energy, but the White House has not ruled out an even higher price tag.

Pointing to the storm in Texas as a “wake-up call” for the need to improve energy systems and other infrastruc­ture, Gina McCarthy, Biden’s national climate adviser, told The Associated Press that Biden’s plan will specifical­ly aim at green and other initiative­s that promote job creation. She cited as an example federal investment­s to boost “workers that have been left behind” by closed coal mines or power plants, as well as communitie­s located near polluting refineries and other hazards.

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