Democrats unveil $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan

House Democrats unveiled a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan Thursday that calls for a huge increase in funding to repair roads and bridges while expanding broadband access in rural areas.

Democrats described the bill as the biggest legislative effort to fight climate change, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) saying the package would “make real the promise of building infrastructure in a green and resilient way.”

“It’s job-creating in its essence, but it’s also commerce-promoting. So it grows the economy of our country,” she said.

The legislation is the latest attempt to advance an infrastructure package that has been discussed since the early days of the Trump administration but continuously fails to gain traction.

Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he does not want to include infrastructure with coronavirus relief, passage of the House measure could put added pressure on the upper chamber to take action next month. House Democrats have passed their $3 trillion HEROES Act and Senate Republicans have yet to draft their next COVID-19 relief package.

The infrastructure bill, known as the Moving Forward Act, includes $25 billion for drinking water, $100 billion for broadband, $70 billion for clean energy projects, $100 billion for low income schools, $30 billion to upgrade hospitals, $100 billion in funding for public housing and $25 billion for the postal service. But its largest component is a $500 billion Democrat-led bill from the House Transportation Committee that has sparked Republican complaints of exclusion.

Tensions on the Transportation Committee have flared largely over the green measures included in the bill, which requires states to account for climate change before undertaking projects and also requires states to meet certain greenhouse gas emission goals when they receive funding.

“Those who don’t believe in climate change, tough luck. We’re going to deal with it,” Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said.

“Republicans have been a bit critical at points during the mark up and saying this is Green New Deal 2.0. This is the application of the principles of the Green New Deal. And this proves that we can both deal with climate change, fossil fuel pollution and actually create millions of new high-paying American jobs. That is the promise of this legislation,” he added.

Republicans on the committee have nicknamed the legislation the “my way or the highway bill,” airing frustrations that they were excluded from its crafting.

“We were not given the opportunity to address any of our priorities in this legislation,” Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the ranking member on the committee, said when the bill was first introduced, arguing it “will leave rural America even further behind, and numerous new green mandates and extreme progressive goals are woven throughout.”

GOP lawmakers have introduced a highway bill of their own in the House, and a package in the Senate was approved at the committee level. 

As for the infrastructure bill as a whole, Republicans have raised concerns about the cost of the legislation.

Democrats have yet to outline how they will pay for the bill, but Pelosi said “with the interest rates where they are now there’s never been a better time for us to go big.”

The Federal Reserve last week voted to keep interest rates near zero, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has insisted throughout the crisis that there is “no limit” to the central bank’s willingness to offer cheap lending.

A vote on the legislation is expected before the Fourth of July recess. While the bill is likely to pass the Democrat-led House, it will face greater resistance in the GOP-led Senate.

“As you know, the Grim Reaper said nothing is ever going any place in the Senate,” Pelosi said, referring to McConnell.

“But there is tremendous interest in the country in building the infrastructure,” she said, adding that the benefit to members’ districts will help carry it forward.

Updated at 4 p.m.

Tags Environment Infrastructure Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Peter DeFazio Sam Graves
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