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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and the top Republican on the Surface Transportation, Maritime, Freight, and Ports Subcommittee, delivered a speech on the Senate floor discussing the current infrastructure proposals. Fischer highlights examples of the Senate working in a bipartisan manner on core infrastructure issues in the past and calls on the Biden Administration to join Republican lawmakers in once again coming together on a bipartisan plan for updating core infrastructure.
A transcript of Fischer’s remarks as prepared for delivery is below.
Mr. President, I like to think that infrastructure is in my DNA.
My father was Jerry Strobel, a civil engineer who spent his entire career with the Nebraska Department of Transportation.
That was back when we still called it the Department of Roads.
He eventually became Director/State Engineer, and served under two different governors: Kay Orr and Ben Nelson.
One Republican, and one Democrat.
My dad used to take my two brothers and me on weekend road trips across Nebraska to check up on our state’s infrastructure – trips he called “inspection tours.”
Many of the photos I have from my childhood are of my brothers and I standing on partially finished bridges, in front of bulldozers, and next to highways that were under various stages of completion.
He taught me how to drop a plumb line and showed me how to handle his surveying equipment.
Those trips with my dad taught me that infrastructure takes a long time to plan, a long time to permit, and a long time to build.
Even short stretches of a single highway can sometimes take years to finish.
To get the most out of our limited taxpayer resources, we must condense that process to save both time and money.
I learned that reliable infrastructure doesn’t happen by accident – and when I was elected to the Nebraska Legislature, I brought that appreciation with me.
As chair of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, I introduced bills like the Build Nebraska Act.
The new revenue from that bill has funded over a dozen important infrastructure projects across Nebraska.
Nebraskans, and all Americans, know what actual infrastructure is.
It is roads and bridges, but it is also ports, airports, railroads, pipelines, waterways, and broadband.
Those things are a core responsibility of government.
The American people also know what infrastructure is not.
If Congress passes a bill to reform Medicare, that’s not infrastructure – it’s health care.
We all know that words don’t change their meaning overnight to suit one party or the other’s political goals.
But President Biden seems to think they do.
He is asking us to support an infrastructure proposal that could eventually top $2.7 trillion, and which redefines that word to mean policies such as climate research and federally funded home- or community-care services – things that have nothing to do with what we have traditionally called infrastructure.
Less than six percent of the $2.25 trillion that is identified in the Biden proposal would go to roads and bridges, barely four percent to broadband, and less than two percent is for airports.
At the same time, hundreds of billions of dollars would be funneled to things like housing, Medicaid, and electric vehicles.
And the president wants to enact trillions of dollars in new taxes to pay for all of this.
Proposals being discussed include raising the capital gains tax to the highest level in history, as well as forcing American businesses, and ultimately their customers, to pay the highest combined corporate tax rate in the developed world.
Congressional Democrats have also proposed getting rid of the estate tax exemption, which would make the federal death tax apply to hardworking middle-class families for the first time in decades.
This would hit our small family Main Street businesses, and our family farms – making it even more difficult to pass their life’s work on to their children.
Mr. President, infrastructure has always been bipartisan, and it has always enjoyed widespread support.
I would gladly support a bill that takes our very real infrastructure problems seriously, and I told President Biden that when I met with him at the White House a few weeks ago.
His proposal simply doesn’t do that.
The president’s plan asks the Senate to vote for a policy wish list of priorities that no one outside this Washington, DC bubble has ever dreamed of calling infrastructure.
But when it comes to real infrastructure, the Senate has bipartisan roots.
We passed the FAST Act by a vote of 83-16 under President Obama in 2015.
We passed an FAA reauthorization 93-6 under President Trump.
And the Senate unanimously approved water development bills and my pipeline safety bill last year.
I see no reason why the administration can’t tackle this important issue in a bipartisan way once again.
And the president, who represented Delaware in the Senate for more than 35 years, knows better than most that we do this every day.
We do it on bills like the HAULS Act, which I reintroduced in March to provide more flexibility for ag and livestock haulers and which has won support from both Republicans and Democrats.
There is also bipartisan support for my bill to establish an online portal for reporting blocked railroad crossings.
My Democratic colleagues and I find common ground on infrastructure more often than we disagree.
That includes bills like the Rural Spectrum Accessibility Act, which made internet access more widely available in rural areas.
Mr. President, history shows that infrastructure is a bipartisan issue.
It can be once again.
But right now, Democrats are pushing this wish list of priorities for their progressive agenda and calling it infrastructure.
For our part, Senate Republicans have made it clear that we’re willing to work with the president on a bill that actually addresses our nation’s ailing infrastructure and makes targeted investments to meet the needs we have.
We introduced our own framework last week.
It draws on our past bipartisan successes, like the FAST Act, and focuses on roads, bridges, broadband, and other actual infrastructure.
It matches or raises the funding levels in the FAST Act – such as $299 billion versus $226 billion for roads and bridges, and nearly twice as much funding for transportation safety programs and rail and Amtrak grants.
We have spent enormous amounts of money in the last year to deal with COVID-19 – and Republicans and Democrats both voted for five bills totaling around $4 trillion to address that crisis.
Another $1.9 trillion bill passed on a partisan basis in January.
That’s $6 trillion in spending in one year.
That level of spending is not sustainable.
Adding another $2.7 trillion Biden plan to this spending is not sustainable.
Our proposal is clear that funding for infrastructure should be fiscally responsible, use existing, proven formula programs as much as possible, and make regulations less burdensome.
This is what President Biden should be focused on, and I hope he takes us up on our offer.
Thank you, Mr. President.
I yield the floor.