March 29, 2021
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg urged the U.S. Congress on March 25 to make a “generational investment” to improve the nation’s transit and water systems and address climate change and racial inequities, as Democrats began laying the groundwork to pass sweeping infrastructure proposals that could cost $3 trillion to $4 trillion, reports The New York Times.
Buttigieg’s inaugural testimony before a key House panel highlighted not only the enormous stakes of the Biden administration’s impending pair of infrastructure proposals—which could not only help President Joe Biden deliver on a number of campaign promises and reshape the country’s economic and energy future, but also the hurdles ahead.
According to the Times, Republicans at the hearing grilled Buttigieg over how to pay for the plan and signaled that they would not support any legislation that went much beyond the nation’s roads, bridges, and waterways.
Biden’s proposals envision far more than that: One would address physical infrastructure projects and development, including clean energy and other measures to take on climate change; and the other would make investments in child care, education and caregiving.
In the first news conference of his presidency, Biden confirmed on March 25 that rebuilding “infrastructure, both physical and technological,” was his next major task, saying it was necessary “so that we can compete and create significant numbers of really good-paying jobs.” He mentioned repairing roads and bridges, replacing aging pipes that leach lead into water; and helping the United States close an infrastructure-spending gap with China.
Buttigieg told lawmakers on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that at least $1 trillion was needed in infrastructure improvements to the nation’s roads, highways, bridges and transit systems. He painted such an investment as an opportunity to address climate change, racial justice and competition with China.
“I believe that we have at this moment the best chance in any of our lifetimes to make a generational investment in infrastructure that will help us meet the country’s most pressing challenges today, and create a stronger future for decades to come,” Buttigieg said, adding that the legislation would serve as a sequel to the nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief plan approved this month.
He said minorities and low-income Americans bore the brunt of deficient infrastructure. “Across the country, we face a trillion-dollar backlog of needed repairs and improvements, with hundreds of billions of dollars in good projects already in the pipeline,” Buttigieg stated. “We face an imperative to create resilient infrastructure and confront inequities that have devastated communities.”
Buttigieg said the infrastructure overhaul should not be a partisan issue, because transportation affected all Americans. Democrats have professed optimism for a bipartisan package, —particularly after pushing the pandemic relief legislation through both chambers over unanimous Republican opposition—and lawmakers in both parties repeatedly emphasized that infrastructure had traditionally been a source of cooperation.
But early partisan divisions spilled over at the hearing, with Republicans criticizing the size and some of the goals of Biden’s proposals.
Addressing reporters on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said Democrats would pursue a bipartisan legislative package but would have to “make a judgment” about how to accomplish more ambitious goals related to addressing climate change and economic inequality that Republicans might not support.
“One of the challenges that we face is we cannot just settle for what we can agree on without recognizing that this has to be a bill for the future,” she said
Reearch contact: @nytimes