New Dems Outline Infrastructure Priorities

May 21, 2021 by Dan McCue
Members of the New Democrat Coalition discussed their infrastructure priorities outside the Capitol on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON – The New Democrat Coalition laid out their infrastructure priorities this week, declaring themselves “very focused on getting things done and figuring out a path to get to yes,” in the words of their chair, Rep. Suzan DelBene, of Washington.

President Joe Biden has reportedly set a soft deadline of Memorial Day weekend for coming to agreement on an infrastructure plan with Congressional Republicans, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has suggested she wants to bring an infrastructure bill to the House floor by July 4.

Speaking with reporters outside the Capitol Wednesday afternoon, DelBene said achieving something meaningful in regard to infrastructure has been a pillar of the New Democrat’s agenda since the start of the new Congress.

“We’re working together to make sure we update the nation’s transportation infrastructure, that we create quality jobs, invest in our nation’s preparedness and resilience, and develop more affordable housing,” she said.

“Infrastructure …. is more than just roads and bridges,” DelBene said, explaining its place on the group’s agenda. 

“This is about the foundation that builds our communities, and that our economy runs on top of,” she said. “And there’s much for us to do.”

Broadly speaking, the New Democrat’s priorities fall into three categories:

  • Building funding and financing to last; 
  • Building resilient, innovative infrastructure for the future; and 
  • Building with smart and inclusive planning, zoning, and development. 

The coalition said it plans to formally endorse slates of bills in the coming weeks as House committees continue to develop legislation in response to the President’s American Jobs Plan.

In the meantime, each member also has their specific priorities. 

DelBene, for instance,  is a sponsor of the Housing Credit Improvement Act, which would expand the nation’s most successful affordable housing program—the Low Income Housing Tax Credit—to address that shortage by building more than two million new affordable units over the next decade and ensuring the program better serves.

“We had a housing crisis before the pandemic, and it’s even worse now,” she said. “Now is a critical time to invest in it to fight back against our affordable housing crisis and make sure we’re not leaving families behind,” she said.

DelBene also spoke of the need for a dramatic expansion of broadband and of her coalition’s deep ties with the Biden administration.

“We are all very engaged and we will continue to meet with folks like White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and others to work through the writing of this legislation.”

New Democrat Coalition Vice Chair, Rep. Sharice Davids, of Kansas, said there is no doubt the nation’s transportation and infrastructure systems “are in dire need of modernization.”

“We heard it from our chairwoman today, and also from so many people across our district and across the country,” Davids said.

“We’re faced with an outdated system that is increasingly unable to meet the basic needs of the American people in our communities,” she said. “Americans spend hours sitting in traffic on unsafe roads, which results not only in a less healthy public, but also in a less healthy planet and lost productivity. 

“I not only understand the importance of modernizing our infrastructure system, but also of finding common ground and making sure that we’re putting forth lasting policies,” Davids continued. “That means looking for innovative solutions. That means addressing the constantly shifting needs of our communities and making sure that our communities are being listened to and heard.”

Davids went on to call for several things, including the reauthorization of federal surface transportation programs, modernizing the nation’s electric grid, and undertaking infrastructure projects that lay the groundwork “for some serious economic growth as we come out of this unprecedented public health and economic crisis.”

Like DelBene, she also called on all of her colleagues to pursue the search for common ground as work on an infrastructure package proceeds.

Rep. Stacey Plaskett, the at-large delegate to the House representing the U.S. Virgin Islands, said one message she and her fellow New Dem members have received from their constituents time and again is that they want to see their government “work again.”

“We’re pragmatic Democrats,” Plaskett said of the coalition. “We’re willing to roll up our sleeves and do the work behind the scenes to make sure not only that meaningful infrastructure legislation gets passed by Congress, but that its benefits get to the American people.”

“Modernizing our infrastructure is one of the best investments we can make to create jobs and grow our economy,” she added. “The U.S. economy depends on functioning transportation systems that support the movement of workers and goods around the country and facilitate international trade.”

Rep. Norma Torres, of California, and Carolyn Bourdeaux, of Georgia, co-chairs of the New Democrat Coalition’s Infrastructure Task Force, both spoke of the need not just to build and create shovel-ready jobs, but to “build back better,” in the words of the Biden administration, so that transportation and infrastructure systems work better and are more resilient than ever before.

Bordeaux, whose district encompasses much of the Atlanta area, said she knows first-hand the importance of making smart, targeted investments in infrastructure “that prepare all parts of our country — rural, urban and suburban — to seize the future.”

“That includes tackling traffic challenges, something those of us in Atlanta are very familiar with,” she said. “It includes high speed rail and electrifying our business to reduce harmful emissions … and it means using smart materials and leveraging public-private partnerships.

“Our world is rapidly changing and the same old solutions won’t do,” Bordeaux continued. “Working together, we can get a comprehensive infrastructure package across the finish line that makes smart investments for the future. The New Dems are driven by good policy and getting the results that matter to Americans. I’m excited to be a part of that effort to build an infrastructure system and an economy that continues to lead the world.”

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