Key Senate Republican praises infrastructure deal

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) speaks to an aide as she arrives to the Capitol for a vote on Monday, July 19, 2021.
Greg Nash

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who served as the lead Republican negotiator on a previous attempt at an infrastructure package, on Monday praised the newly unveiled bipartisan deal as a major step in the right direction, signaling she is likely to support final passage of the legislation.

Capito didn’t explicitly say how she would vote on final passage but she touted the $1.2 trillion bill, which includes a lot of legislation produced by her committee, as having huge benefits for her home state of West Virginia and the rest of the nation.

“This is a product the American people can be proud of and one that will benefit them and the next generation,” she said, praising the 2,700-page bill on the floor.

Capito, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over transportation infrastructure, led talks with President Biden earlier this year that ultimately fizzled out.

But she argued that those talks and the bipartisan work with her Democratic counterpart on the committee, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), helped lay the foundation for the infrastructure legislation that was finalized over the weekend. 

“I’m really, really glad and proud of their efforts that they were able to come to an agreement that is before us today,” she said of the compromise negotiated by a bipartisan group of 10 senators led by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

Those bipartisan talks were supported by a larger bipartisan group of 22 senators, which did not include Capito.

But Capito voted last week, along with 16 other Republicans, on a motion to begin debate on the infrastructure bill, which was essentially replaced by the bipartisan amendment unveiled over the weekend.

Capito’s expected support for the legislation will go a long way toward convincing other Republicans on the fence to vote to advance the legislation to the House and ultimately Biden’s desk.

GOP senators, however, are still waiting on a score from the Congressional Budget Office that will tell them just how much of the bill is paid for.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) estimated Monday that only slightly more than 50 percent of the bill’s cost is offset by spending cuts and revenue-raising provisions.

Capito said she came to infrastructure negotiations earlier this year “with several major priorities” and is now “proud to say that each one of them is in this bill that we’re getting ready to consider.”

She noted the pending legislation includes the substantial increase in federal aid for federal highway programs, which she praised as “historic levels of funding for roads and bridges.”

“West Virginia has so many bridges. It’s a small state, but we have a lot of hills and valleys so we need a lot of bridges,” she said, noting that 21 percent of West Virginia’s bridges and 13 percent of the state’s interstate bridges are in “poor condition.”

She also praised the legislation for including regulatory reform to speed up how long it takes to complete projects.

She touted $35 billion for water projects “with a focus on upgrading an aging infrastructure” that would “provide assistance to rural and low-income communities to help them keep their water safe and clean.”

Capito highlighted a new $2 billion rural grant program to expand the Appalachian Development Highway System, which will make it easier for people in the populous Washington, D.C., metro area to travel to vacation spots in West Virginia.

And she praised the bill’s commitment to expanding broadband internet access as a big selling point.

“Broadband is core infrastructure and this legislation recognizes that. It’s a major broadband investment in this that will tremendously help close the digital divide in this country,” she said.

Carper, the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, also praised the bipartisan compromise and urged his colleagues to vote for it. 

“I rise today to urge our colleagues to join Sen. Capito, sitting to my right, and me in debating the legislation, offering improvements that are needed to it, and then voting for its adoption,” he said. 

He hailed the legislation as an economic game-changer and, like Capito, noted it includes much of the work done earlier this year by his committee.

“We know that investment and innovation in this bill before us could have a profound impact on our economy, creating jobs and fostering growth for our entire community,” he said. “We can in short seize the day in face of so much adversity.” 

Tags Joe Biden John Thune Kyrsten Sinema Rob Portman Shelley Moore Capito Tom Carper

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