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Buttigieg Says Infrastructure Bill Will Be ‘Monumental’

July 9, 2021 by Kate Michael
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — After weeks of negotiations, a bipartisan infrastructure deal may have been reached, but even Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg knows not to count Washington chickens before they are hatched.

“It’s not a small thing to turn the outlines of an agreement, no matter how hard-fought, into legislation,” he reminded participants of a Bipartisan Policy Center discussion on critical infrastructure for a clean future.  

Still, he said he’s encouraged “to see the sight of a President walking out of the West Wing flanked by Republican Senators saying, ‘Yes, we have a deal.’”

The deal, which was agreed to by more than 20 senators from both parties and backed by Biden late last month, would likely cost around $1 trillion over five years, with $579 billion in new spending. To appease Republicans, the spending would focus on “traditional” infrastructure such as roads, bridges, airports, transportation, and broadband.

Democrats are hoping that additional “human” infrastructure measures, like child care, health care, and education, can be passed in a near-future reconciliation bill. 

“Washington math is strange. You can have something overwhelmingly popular across the aisle [elsewhere in the country]… but not here in Washington. The biggest threat to [the infrastructure bill] is politics,” Buttigieg said. “I can’t think of better politics than actually delivering something that the American people want.”

The concern is now that a preliminary deal has been struck, lawmakers and staff must transform the general framework into legislative text, including methods to pay for the spending. Some of the proposed pay-fors are expected to face opposition from conservatives.

Buttigieg said infrastructure will not only play a crucial role in the transition to a clean energy economy but that he believes investments should be targeted to correct past wrongs done to minorities and the disadvantaged. 

“Our history around this is mixed at best,” Buttigieg said, citing transit deserts and past progress that came about through the destruction of disadvantaged communities. He suggested that thoughtful and intentional plans and inter-agency collaboration were needed to work toward equity for the marginalized this time around so that the nation wouldn’t be needing to fix such mistakes again down the road.

“Federal dollars set up some of these problems, but Federal dollars can also be used to solve them,” he said.

Optimistic about the chances of passing a bill that would fund the largest investment in infrastructure in a century, Buttigieg said, “we’ve arrived at something that is historic, generational, meaningful, powerful… that is also an ambitious deal.”

“Yes, I think we can get it done; I think we have to get it done… [and] it will be remembered as monumental once we get it across the finish line.” 

A bipartisan infrastructure deal could be drafted and brought to the Senate floor as early as the week of July 19, 2021. 

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