Pelosi launches infrastructure debate, urging bipartisanship
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday kick-started the high-stakes debate on an infrastructure overhaul, tasking House committee heads with drafting “a big, bold and transformational” package, a top priority of President Biden.
Fresh from a huge victory on a massive package to tackle the coronavirus, boost the economy and expand health coverage, Democrats are indicating they don’t intend to slow down when it comes to using their newly gotten powers in the Senate and White House to press for additional economic stimulus.
Infrastructure is among the rare issues enjoying broad bipartisan support in Congress — every district has roads and water systems in need of repair — and Pelosi is urging Democratic committee leaders to reach across the aisle in search of GOP input.
“Building our transportation system has long been bipartisan,” she said in a statement. “It is our hope that spirit will prevail as we address other critical needs in energy and broadband, education and housing, water systems and other priorities.”
Whether that’s possible in a bitterly divided Congress remains to be seen.
While the sides tend to agree on the need to bolster the nation’s outdated roads, bridges and airports, infrastructure bills of the past have been sunk by stark partisan differences over how — or even whether — to pay for them.
Pelosi this week suggested the House package would be at least partially offset, without providing details.
“We have to pay for some of it. We’ll have to find ways to cover fees, et cetera. That’s all a discussion that has to take place now,” she said Thursday during a press briefing in the Capitol. “But there’s no question the most extensive maintenance of our infrastructure is no maintenance. It only just gets worse.”
The devil will be in the details.
In the last Congress, House Democrats had adopted a $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal, coupled with a host of provisions designed to tackle climate change. Those environmental items alienated many Republicans, and only three Republicans voted in favor of the package.
Those same tensions are likely to accompany this year’s infrastructure debate, as many Democrats are already calling for climate provisions to be a major part of the legislation. Biden has joined that chorus, hoping to use the package to reduce carbon emissions by shifting the nation’s energy production from fossil fuels to greener technologies.
Such provisions are sure to erode GOP support, and a number of Democrats are already calling for party leaders to tap special budget procedures, known as reconciliation, to move the infrastructure package. That gambit allows legislation to pass with only a simple majority in the Senate, sidestepping a Republican filibuster — the same process Democrats used to pass their $1.9 trillion COVI19 relief package this week.
Pelosi is forecasting that the House package will include those climate provisions — demanded by liberals in her caucus — while also suggesting Democrats will have to come up with offsets to reduce the effect on deficit spending, which stands as a growing concern of moderates.
“As we engage in these job-creating initiatives, we must discuss their impact on the federal budget, on creating economic growth and on preserving our planet,” she said.
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