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There is little disagreement, among lawmakers and the public, about whether the U.S. needs to invest more money in improving and modernizing its infrastructure. The country, as President Joe Biden noted recently, ranks a dismal 13th in the world in terms of the quality and condition of our infrastructure such as roads, railways, water systems and powerlines.
Beyond additional investments in infrastructure, the U.S. needs to move much more rapidly to transportation and electric systems that are much less dependent on fossil fuels, a major contributor to climate change.
For this reason, the infrastructure proposals being discussed in Washington offer a vital opportunity to hasten this needed transition. This can’t be lost in the debates over the cost of an infrastructure bill and how best to get a plan through Congress.
The president in March proposed a sweeping $2 trillion infrastructure plan. In addition to needed money for repairs and modernization, the White House proposal also emphasized the imperative of addressing climate change in these projects. In other words, rebuilding deteriorating bridges, widening roads and building new power lines isn’t enough these days. Instead, these projects should include consideration of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, extending and improving rail lines for commuters and making communities more conducive to walking and biking could be a much better long-term investment than simply repaving miles of highways. Likewise, increasing the reliability of our electric grid must also include ways to generate more renewable energy and deliver it to our homes and businesses.
Any viable compromise plan should not lose sight of the dual goals of improving America’s infrastructure and lessening climate change impact.
Currently in Washington, the primary focus is on how much money the federal government should spend on needed improvements, including broadband, and from where that money should come. There is also disagreement over what counts as infrastructure, with the president’s plan taking a sweeping approach that includes higher wages and union protections, while Republicans are focused more tightly on traditional transportation infrastructure projects like road and bridge repair and upgrades.
The good news is that, despite negotiations going nowhere, there continue to be numerous ongoing discussions and plans being discussed, among both members of the House and Senate. That is an encouraging sign that passage of a forward-looking federal infrastructure plan remains a possibility.
One plan comes from the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 58 House members, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. U.S. Rep. Jared Golden is a member.
Their $1.25 trillion plan is closer to Biden’s proposal than a Republican plan the White House rejected early this month. It also includes more money for public transit, electric vehicles, green energy, carbon capture and other climate change-related infrastructure.
Most important, it has bipartisan support, showing what is possible as a bipartisan group of senators puts together its own plan.
“This infrastructure framework — negotiated by the 29 Democrats and 29 Republicans of the Problem Solvers Caucus — shows that a bipartisan deal to rebuild American infrastructure is possible if congressional leaders and the White House are willing to stay at the table and continue bipartisan talks,” Golden said last week.
A bipartisan group of senators, including U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, is also working on a proposal. On Thursday, the group said it had reached an agreement on a framework for a $1.2 trillion plan, but few details were released.
Both plans are short on explanations of funding sources. The Senate plan would not require tax increases, the group said. Golden suggested that the Problem Solvers plan could be paid for through better IRS enforcement of tax rules, which would bring in additional revenue. Biden’s plan called for an increase in corporate taxes.
Many details remain to be worked out — including whether House and Senate leadership from both parties — will support any of these plans. It is encouraging, however, that these essential conversations continue.