Biden's infrastructure push focuses on America's competitiveness

Lawmakers are cautious along party lines following White House meeting

Heading into his bipartisan meeting with lawmakers from the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Thursday, President Biden said his goal was to "make sure we once again lead the world across the board on infrastructure.”

The president told reporters that investing in infrastructure "not only creates jobs, but it makes us a whole lot more competitive around the world."

While there is still no price tag on Biden's plan, after the meeting his ideas were greeted warmly by some and with a warning from others.


Committee chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said the session "went very well" and that Biden wants to "move as quickly as possible" and "wants it to be very big."

The committee's ranking member, Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., was more measured. "It cannot be a ‘my way or the highway’ approach like last Congress," Graves warned. "First and foremost, a highway bill cannot grow into a multi-trillion dollar catch-all bill, or it will lose Republican support."

Spending on infrastructure will likely be the next major priority for the Biden administration after its $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package clears the Senate, likely along hardened partisan lines.

The prospect of funding roads, bridges, ports, rural broadband and other infrastructure is a chance for Biden to rebuild not only the country but build a relationship with Republicans.

Biden laid the groundwork for an infrastructure package during last year’s campaign by proposing $2 trillion in “accelerated” investments to shift to cleaner energy, build charging stations for electric vehicles, support public transit and repair roads and bridges. The plan emphasizes the importance of addressing climate change and creating unionized jobs.

Besides DeFazio and Graves, Thursday's meeting included Vice President Kamala Harris, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and six other members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure: chairwoman Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., vice chairwoman Sharice Davis, D-Kan. Reps. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., John Garamendi, D-Calif., John Katko, R-NY, and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.


Chair DeFazio described the meeting as "refreshing", noting that negotiating with former President Donald Trump was a "whole different world." Biden and the committee discussed paying for the plan, but DeFazio declined to go into specifics except that the president "feels that this is the key to the recovery package.”

But on the other side of the aisle, Graves said in a statement that the administration and House Democrats "need to consider Republican priorities."

The 10-term congressman stated, "First and foremost, a highway bill cannot grow into a multi-trillion dollar catch-all bill, or it will lose Republican support.  We have to be responsible."

Nor can it be "another Green New Deal disguising itself as a transportation bill," said Graves and needs to focus on "fundamental transportation needs," such as roads or bridges.

With more than 100 counties described as "rural" by Missouri state agencies, Graves wants to make sure those communities in his home state, as well as rural areas in other states, are taken care of in an infrastructure bill.

"Rural infrastructure needs cannot be left behind," said Graves,  "We all have the same goal of improving America’s transportation infrastructure, but we cannot overlook broad sections of the country in the process.”


Though House Democrats previously passed their own $1.5 trillion infrastructure package last year, the proposal was not taken up in the Senate.

The bill would've given more than $300 billion into repairing bridges and roads, $130 billion into schools that educate low-income children, more than $100 billion into building or preserving affordable housing and $100 billion into expanding broadband internet access, according to the Wall Street Journal. However, Republicans opposed the bill's spending and action to address climate change.

Thursday's meeting came a day after the American Society of Civil Engineers graded the nation’s infrastructure as a lackluster “C-.” The group said $5.9 trillion must be spent over the next decade for safe and sustainable roads, bridges and airports. That recommendation is about $2.6 trillion more than what the government and private sector spend.

The Associated Press contributed to this report