House Dems Tout Infrastructure Benefits Amid Senate GOP Concerns

U.S. Department of Transportation

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WASHINGTON — The chairman of a panel overseeing small business policy highlighted potential benefits a $1 trillion infrastructure law would have on freight connectivity across the country as senior Republicans raise concerns about the Biden administration’s directives.

Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), chairman of the Underserved, Agricultural and Rural Business Development Subcommittee, touted programs and initiatives approved in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that are designed to enhance the movement of freight and access to broadband internet.

Such provisions, enacted by the law in November, are likely to assist entrepreneurs’ ability to grow their businesses, he said.



Golden

“This law speaks to their concerns because it’s designed specifically to help small firms compete for contracts awarded with the funds it provides. Small construction firms and other types of businesses will play a direct role in building and repairing infrastructure projects that this law funds,” said Golden during a hearing Feb. 15.

He also highlighted the law’s “longer-term impacts” for the small businesses: “By increasing access to reliable broadband, we can help close the digital divide and empower rural small businesses.”

The chairman also emphasized efforts to respond to climate change concerns and alleviate supply chain woes: “The bipartisan infrastructure law also helps ease the supply chain pressures that have caused delays, shortages and higher prices for small firms. By improving the poor condition of our roads, bridges, rail and ports, we can help ensure that goods arrive on time.”

He continued, “Investing in domestic manufacturing is another critical approach that can minimize delays and make our supply chain more resilient in the face of global crises.”

Stakeholders at the subcommittee hearing also pointed to provisions in the law aimed at improving opportunities for small businesses. Ed Mortimer, vice president for transportation infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for instance, focused on funding to enhance access for freight and commuter corridors, broadband and programs meant to expedite the permitting process for transportation projects.

“The law includes permitting provisions that substantially update the environmental permitting process for major infrastructure projects and other federal authorizations,” Mortimer told policymakers. “The permitting provisions are called the ‘one federal decision’ and will help improve agency coordination, encourage the development of more concise environmental analyses and help drive more efficient decision-making. Bottom line, more investment will go to much-needed projects while maintaining environmental projects and public input.”

While Democrats continue to champion the infrastructure law, senior Republicans on Capitol Hill are pushing back on the Biden administration’s call for states to prioritize severe-weather infrastructure resilience, transit and access to walkability during the allocation of infrastructure funds.

Leading the way are Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The senators recently told governors to reaffirm a commitment to ensure the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s proper implementation.

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The senators’ action is in response to a memorandum the Federal Highway Administration issued pertaining to the law’s principles. Capito and McConnell voted for the law during its consideration in the chamber last summer.

“We were disappointed to read the Federal Highway Administration memorandum entitled ‘Policy on Using Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Resources to Build a Better America’ issued on Dec. 16, 2021. Unfortunately, the FHWA memorandum attempts to implement a wish list of policies not reflected in the IIJA. These policies, such as discouraging projects that increase highway capacity and prioritizing projects that advance nonmotorized transportation options, differ from the provisions negotiated and agreed to in the law,” the senators told governors.

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Other congressional Republicans have echoed the senators’ concern.

“It is becoming clearer that they are less concerned about properly implementing this infrastructure law and more focused on shoehorning it into their woke agenda,” said Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Earlier this year, several Republican governors asked the Biden administration not to advance a social agenda through the new infrastructure law.

 

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