What’s Happening with the Infrastructure Spending Bills?

The Senate is set to vote on a $1.5 trillion infrastructure spending bill this week, with the House of Representatives also expected to take up their version of the legislation in coming days. The bipartisan measure would have an estimated price tag of more than $2 trillion over 10 years and would focus largely on investing in new roads, bridges, water systems and other projects that are needed across the country.

The Senate’s proposal has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle for not including enough funding for rural communities which are often overlooked when it comes to investment in infrastructure projects. Democrats and Republicans also disagree on how to raise funds and pay for the legislation. Democrats have pushed for a surtax on ultra-millionaires, while Republicans want to raise revenue by authorizing more oil drilling off the coast of Florida.

The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing today to discuss solutions that could help boost funding for water infrastructure projects. Lawmakers heard testimony from local officials about the need to invest in America’s water systems. We understand that our nation is facing serious fiscal constraints, yet we cannot afford to delay action on the urgent need for clean water infrastructure, said Tom Cochran (D-Md.), who serves as CEO and executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM). “The good news is that local officials are on the front lines and can help come up with solutions to address this issue.

Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) echoed Cochran’s concerns, adding that she has heard similar concerns from her constituents living in rural communities. We expect that Washington will suit up and act, Capito said. We disagree with the idea that you can’t do anything unless it’s bipartisan.

Others pointed out that funding could be put to good use in rural parts of the country where unemployment rates are a lot higher than they are on average throughout the rest of the nation. Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) used his home state as an example. The unemployment rate in Oregon is 4.1 percent—not very high, he said. But rural communities have a much higher level of unemployment. In Douglas County , it’s 9 percent, Grant County , it’s over 10, and Josephine County , which is on the border of California , it’s over 20 percent.

DeFazio noted that there is a lot of opposition from construction companies and labor unions to investing in rural areas because these regions often have a hard time attracting business. We don’t have a lot of Fortune 500 companies, DeFazio said. He added he has also heard from other members who support funneling federal dollars to rural communities, because their families need jobs and there is a high level of unemployment.

There has been positive action on federal legislation that can help address the country’s water infrastructure needs. In December, Congress passed three bipartisan bills as part of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which included a provision that will make it easier for communities to invest in water infrastructure. The legislation also authorized 12 new Army Corps of Engineer studies, as well as a study on the Green Bay-Fox River watershed, which was authored by Congresswoman Ron Kind (D-Wis.), who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Rural Caucus .