Top Dem launches rural broadband task force amid infrastructure talks

Top Dem launches rural broadband task force amid infrastructure talks
© Stefani Reynolds

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) on Monday announced the creation of an all-Democrat task force on rural broadband, signaling his support for the inclusion of broadband funding in any infrastructure package.

The move comes as Democratic leaders pursue a potential $2 trillion infrastructure deal with President TrumpDonald John TrumpPapadopoulos on AG's new powers: 'Trump is now on the offense' Pelosi uses Trump to her advantage Mike Pence delivers West Point commencement address MORE, with both sides saying rural broadband would likely be included.

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"It's unacceptable in 2019 that many rural communities have limited to no access to the internet," Clyburn said in a statement. "If rural America is to thrive in the 21st century information economy, it must have affordable and accessible internet service to every community."

The group of 17 House Democrats aims to ensure federal funding for rural broadband is spent "effectively" and that legislation is passed to expand internet access to all Americans by 2025, according to a statement about the new coalition. Its members include lawmakers representing rural districts, as well as some progressive leaders like Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaPelosi uses Trump to her advantage Progressive Democrat says Trump victory shed light on divide between Silicon Valley, rural US Democratic rep says targeted sanctions on Huawei are 'reasonable' MORE (D-Calif.).

"Majority Whip Clyburn and the President agreed on the need to include significant funding for rural broadband in the package," the statement reads.

Trump is slated to meet with Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi uses Trump to her advantage Fake Pelosi video sparks fears for campaigns Trump goes scorched earth against impeachment talk MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerNo agreement on budget caps in sight ahead of Memorial Day recess Ex-White House photographer roasts Trump: 'This is what a cover up looked like' under Obama Pelosi: Trump 'is engaged in a cover-up' MORE (D-N.Y.), in the coming weeks to hammer out details after both sides emerged optimistic from a meeting last month. But the potential deal has already hit some roadblocks in Congress, with many GOP lawmakers raising concerns over how to pay for the package and saying they do not support a tax increase.

A separate, bipartisan congressional group known as the House Rural Broadband Caucus urged Trump to include broadband funding in any infrastructure deal before the White House released its own infrastructure plan. The coalition of 71 members called investments in high-speed internet "essential."

All three Democratic co-chairs of the Rural Broadband Caucus are on Clyburn's new task force. A Clyburn spokesperson told The Hill that the Democrats see the task force as "complementary" and one that aims to elevate the issue of rural broadband within the caucus and among Democratic leadership.

Funding for rural broadband has typically had widespread bipartisan support, but many House Republicans have declined to get behind the latest infrastructure push, saying GOP leaders were not adequately consulted.

Some Democrats, like Khanna, have said the House should try to pass its own infrastructure package, even without support from Trump or House Republicans.