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Biden Team Readies Economic Package    02/28 08:50

   Looking beyond the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, President Joe Biden and 
lawmakers are laying the groundwork for another top legislative priority -- a 
long-sought boost to the nation's roads, bridges and other infrastructure that 
could run into Republican resistance to a hefty price tag.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Looking beyond the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, 
President Joe Biden and lawmakers are laying the groundwork for another top 
legislative priority --- a long-sought boost to the nation's roads, bridges and 
other infrastructure that could run into Republican resistance to a hefty price 

   Biden and his team have begun discussions on the possible outlines of an 
infrastructure package with members of Congress, particularly mindful that 
Texas' recent struggles with power outages and water shortages after a brutal 
winter storm present an opportunity for agreement on sustained spending on 

   Gina McCarthy, Biden's national climate adviser, told The Associated Press 
that the deadly winter storm in Texas should be a "wake-up call" for the need 
for energy systems and other infrastructure that are more reliable and 

   "The infrastructure is not built to withstand these extreme weather 
conditions," said Liz Sherwood-Randall, a homeland security aide to the 
president. "We know that we can't just react to extreme weather events. We need 
to plan for them and prepare for them."

   A White House proposal could come out in March.

   "Now is the time to be aggressive," said Transportation Secretary Pete 
Buttigieg, a former South Bend, Indiana, mayor who knows potholes.

   At a conference with state and local highway officials Thursday, he referred 
to the often-promised, never-achieved mega-initiative on roads, bridges and the 
like from the Trump administration.

   "I know you are among those who are working and waiting most patiently, or 
maybe impatiently, for the moment when Infrastructure Week will no longer be a 
kind of Groundhog's Day promise --- but actually be something that delivers 
generational investments," he said.

   Much of America's infrastructure --- roads, bridges, public drinking and 
water systems, dams, airports, mass transit systems and more --- is in need of 
major restoration after years of underfunding, according to the American 
Society of Civil Engineers. In its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, it gave the 
national infrastructure an overall grade of D+.

   Both chambers of Congress will use as starting points their unsuccessful 
efforts to get infrastructure bills through the last session.

   Democrats passed a $1.5 trillion package in the House last year, but it went 
nowhere with the Trump administration and the Republican-led Senate. A Senate 
panel approved narrower bipartisan legislation in 2019 focused on reauthorizing 
federal transportation programs. It, too, flamed out as the U.S. turned its 
focus to elections and COVID-19.

   Biden has talked bigger numbers, and some Democrats are now urging him to 
bypass Republicans in the closely divided Congress to address a broader range 
of priorities urged by interest groups.

   During the presidential campaign, Biden pledged to deploy $2 trillion on 
infrastructure and clean energy, but the White House has not ruled out an even 
higher price tag. McCarthy said Biden's upcoming plan will specifically aim at 
job creation, such as with investments to boost "workers that have been left 
behind" by closed coal mines or power plants, as well as communities located 
near polluting refineries and other hazards.

   "He's been a long fan of investing in infrastructure --- long outdated --- 
long overdue, I should say," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said 
Thursday. "But he also wants to do more on caregiving, help our manufacturing 
sector, do more to strengthen access to affordable health care. So the size --- 
the package --- the components of it, the order, that has not yet been 

   Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, 
recently told the White House that he's ready to use the budget maneuver known 
as reconciliation to pass a broad economic recovery package with only 
Democratic votes. That drew stern warnings from Republicans who have already 
closed ranks against Democrats' COVID-19 relief bill.

   West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican on the Senate 
Environment and Public Works Committee, said there's bipartisan support for 
ambitious steps on infrastructure. But that "should not extend to a 
multitrillion-dollar package that is stocked full with other ideologically 
driven, one-size-fits-all policies that tie the hands of our states and our 
communities," she said.

   Capito will be helping to craft bipartisan legislation on the Senate side.

   Rep. Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure 
Committee, told the AP that he foresees a comprehensive House package that will 
go beyond roads, bridges and public transit.

   He also expects it to have money for water systems, broadband and the power 
grid --- addressing a weak infrastructure laid bare after the crippling 
blackouts in Texas.

   He's not ready to talk overall costs yet. DeFazio, D-Ore., said it will be 
up to the Biden administration and the House Ways and Means Committee to figure 
out how to pay for it.

   DeFazio said General Motors' recently announced goal of going largely 
electric by 2035 demonstrates the need for massive spending on charging 
stations across the country. Biden campaigned on a plan to install 500,000 
charging stations by the end of 2030.

   "I'm totally willing to work with (Republicans) if they're willing to 
recognize climate change," DeFazio said, "or if they don't want to recognize 
climate change, they can just recognize that electric semis and electric 
vehicles are a flood on the horizon and we've got to get ahead of it."

   Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich., expressed a similar sentiment, urging strong 
action on carbon emissions and the vehicle charging stations to help achieve a 
"full transition to electric." She also wants states to have more federal 
grants for infrastructure repairs after natural disasters and extreme weather.

   At the Senate hearing where she spoke, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of 
Maryland said there's bipartisan support among governors for relieving 
congestion, cutting red tape, leveraging private sector investment and ensuring 
projects can better withstand cyber attacks and natural disasters.

   Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the new chairman of the Senate 
Environment and Public Works Committee, said his goal is for his committee to 
pass an infrastructure bill by Memorial Day.

   In the House, Rep. Sam Graves, the top Republican on the transportation 
panel, said Republicans would be open to a larger package as long as it didn't 
greatly add to the national debt.

   But many lawmakers oppose an increase in the federal gas tax, one way to 
help pay for the spending, while groups such as the Chamber of Commerce argue 
against increasing taxes on companies during a pandemic.

   White House aide Cedric Richmond, a former congressman from Louisiana, told 
state transportation officials the president intends for most of the spending 
to be paid for, not added to the debt. In part, this would be by reversing some 
of the Trump administration tax cuts.

   Ed Mortimer, a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said removing 
items in last year's infrastructure bill for renovating schools and low-income 
housing could lower the price tag, because the COVID relief measure passed by 
the House already has hundreds of billions of dollars for those purposes.

   "Affordable housing, school construction, very meritorious, but we're not 
sure that that's a key focus that's going to get a bill signed into law," 
Mortimer said.

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