Senators Worked Together To Advance The Infrastructure Agreement
SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
Senator Chris Coons of Delaware was one of the Democrats who helped get that bipartisan deal over the line. We've been speaking with him throughout this process, and he joins us again this morning. Good morning, Senator. Thanks for being here.
CHRIS COONS: Good morning, Sarah. It's a great day.
MCCAMMON: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as you know, says she will not consider this infrastructure bill until the Senate passes a $3.5 trillion package that Sue was just talking about. That includes health care, child care and climate action. And as you know, that package lacks Republican support. Are you concerned that Speaker Pelosi's position could quash your bipartisan infrastructure bill?
COONS: I'm not, Sarah, because we've been clear on this for weeks and weeks. There's 67 senators of both parties who have supported moving forward this hard infrastructure bill, this bill that will pay for $550 billion in new infrastructure, and the Budget Committee of the Senate, on a party-line vote, has sent to the floor the bill that we will next take up, which will allow for reconciliation - a process that almost certainly only Democrats will support, that will also move forward on this $3.5 trillion package. Between these two, we will make great progress in passing President Biden's American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan. One's going to be bipartisan. One's going to be Democrats only.
MCCAMMON: On the infrastructure bill, as you ironed out your disagreements with Republicans, what did Democrats have to give up to get this done?
COONS: Well, as you've heard from some House Democrats, pieces of this are smaller than Democrats would have chosen if we got to write the entire bill. But one of the things we got was new authorizations. We have to pass a law that's bipartisan in order to authorize new programs - new programs for things from electric school buses to expanded broadband to climate resilience. And this is going to lay the foundation for years of infrastructure spending on everything from roads and rail to transit to clean drinking water to new broadband. So we have a smaller bill than Democrats only would have written, but we have a broader bill and a more enduring bill as a result.
MCCAMMON: It is a little bit smaller. A month ago here on MORNING EDITION, you were talking about $579 billion in new infrastructure spending. Now it's around $550 billion. What's changed?
COONS: One small piece had to be moved out. But let's be clear, Sarah, this is...
MCCAMMON: What was that small piece, if I may ask?
COONS: ...This is the largest investment in infrastructure in our country's history. Just Amtrak alone, for example, with the $66 billion in passenger rail spending is getting more than has been invested in Amtrak since it was founded. So, you know, only in an era where we're spending a trillion here and a trillion there is a $550 billion infrastructure bill seen as anything other than the biggest infrastructure bill in our history.
MCCAMMON: But what was the small piece that was moved out?
COONS: I bluntly don't remember right now.
MCCAMMON: Fair enough. You've been busy.
MCCAMMON: Let's do talk about how to pay for this, though. The White House has talked about using unspent COVID relief funds. Republican Senator Rob Portman has talked about going after unemployment fraud. I wonder if you could clarify for us how exactly this will be paid for?
COONS: Well, there's a broad range of pay force, and to be clear, some of it is what's called dynamic scoring, meaning we recognize that building infrastructure that's going to benefit the economy for decades - that we are spending money that will actually improve the performance of the economy. But we're also taking money that was appropriated last year and hasn't been spent yet and redirecting it to infrastructure. We're also imposing some new fees. For example, there's a Superfund cleanup program for $21 billion where there's - we are reinstating corporate user fees that helps fund Superfund and brownfield site cleanup.
MCCAMMON: You know, infrastructure has been on people's lips in Washington for years now, to the point that I think some people glaze over when they hear it. But how confident are you that this - I mean, this is really happening?
COONS: I'm very confident now that we've gotten 67 votes on the floor. Look, even Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, voted to proceed to this bill. This is something that Americans in every state in the country want. Our roads and our bridges, our tunnels, our highways are crumbling. They're falling apart. It makes us less competitive regionally and globally, and, frankly, showing that we can do something that addresses daily problems - potholes in people's roads - reinforces that Congress can work, even in a bitter and divided and partisan period. And you're right, during the last administration, it was infrastructure week every week, even when they never got anything done. This helps validate Joe Biden's vision that we can do basic, important things in a bipartisan way.
MCCAMMON: Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, thanks so much for talking with us this morning.
COONS: Thank you, Sarah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.