Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Thursday that he supports the idea of breaking the large infrastructure package into three parts to build bipartisan support for the different priorities.
“Well, the reason they couldn’t do it the first time was that we had the urgency of the COVID vaccine. So that’s why it wasn’t done. That’s a very good approach now,” Manchin, who is known for being more of a moderate and working across the aisle, told reporters. “It’s about time we do something bipartisan.”
After passing the $1.9 COVID-19 stimulus package, the White House is turning its attention to infrastructure reform legislation. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters on Monday that information about the administration’s infrastructure plans will be released shortly.
“Conversations are taking place right now, as you’ve seen—Oval Office meetings with the president, leaders from both parties, from both houses. It’s fair to say that in short order, you’re going to be seeing more,” he said during a visit to a UPS facility in Landover, Maryland.
Buttigieg did not provide a set timeline but said the administration will be taking action well before a Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize surface transportation funding.
“We’ve got a clock on everything we’re doing, especially because the present surface reauthorization is up in September. We’re not waiting until September in order to act,” he said.
One infrastructure priority is broadband internet, which both Democrats and Republicans have been concerned about after gaps were exposed during the pandemic.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Thursday, “I think we need to look at the needs. The important thing with infrastructure reform is we have to broaden our definition beyond roads and bridges, airports and seaports, important though they are, and also include broadband.
“The pandemic has really shined a light on the disparities between areas and rural America, such as parts of my state of Maine and more urban areas, when it comes to broadband.”
On March 11, Democrats led by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) reintroduced legislation called the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act to authorize $94 billion for broadband spending.
“Access to broadband today will have the same dramatic impact on rural communities as the rural electrification efforts in the last century,” Clyburn said in a statement. “When I formed the Rural Broadband Task Force, our mission was to address the digital divide. The disparate effects of that divide have been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic and exposed the urgency of ensuring universal access to high-speed internet.”
Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) introduced the Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America Act, which sought $80 billion for broadband infrastructure.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) expressed their support for prioritizing broadband during a hearing on Wednesday called Investment to Close the Digital Divide in Communities Across America.
“The last year has been a very stark reminder about how important broadband connectivity is to Americans,” Cantwell said. She said Americans used the internet for all their needs during the pandemic but there are some who still don’t have access or full access, which she wants to change.
“We’ve had to struggle throughout the pandemic. But imagine what life would have been like if we didn’t have the internet during that time period. For millions of Americans, they don’t have to imagine, because some of them really didn’t have access to the internet.”