Weekly Column

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Infrastructure is in my DNA. My father was Jerry Strobel, a civil engineer who spent his entire career with the Nebraska Department of Transportation back when it was called the Department of Roads. He eventually became Director/State Engineer, serving under Republican Governor Kay Orr and Democratic Governor Ben Nelson.

I learned to love infrastructure growing up traveling the state on family weekend “inspection” tours with my dad, looking at bridges and roads being built. 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 revenue from that bill has funded over a dozen important infrastructure projects across Nebraska.

The Build Nebraska Act focused on roads, bridges, and highways, but I believe many other projects also meet the definition of infrastructure. Nebraskans, and all Americans, know what actual infrastructure is. It is roads and bridges, but it is also ports, airports, pipelines, waterways, and broadband. 

But the definition of “infrastructure” should not be expanded to include a policy wish list. If Congress passes a bill to reform Medicare, that’s not infrastructure – it’s health care. Words don’t change their meaning overnight to suit one party or the other’s political objectives.

President Biden seems to think they do. His recent proposal, which could top $2.7 trillion, redefines infrastructure to include policies that have nothing to do with what we all know to be traditional infrastructure, such as climate research and federally funded home- or community-care services.

Less than six percent of that $2.7 trillion in the Biden administration bill would go to roads and bridges, barely four percent to broadband, and less than two percent to 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. Among his proposals are raising the capital gains tax rate to the highest level in history and forcing American businesses and ultimately their customers to pay the highest combined corporate tax rate in the developed world. Congressional Democrats have also discussed eliminating the estate tax exemption, which would make the federal death tax apply to hardworking middle-class families for the first time in decades.

Infrastructure has always been bipartisan, enjoying widespread support. I would gladly support a bill that takes our many infrastructure problems seriously, and I told President Biden that when I met with him at the White House in early April. But his proposal simply doesn’t do that.

When it comes to real infrastructure, the Senate has bipartisan roots. We passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act by a vote of 83-16 under President Obama in 2015. We passed a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization 93-6 under President Trump. And the Senate unanimously approved water development bills and a pipeline safety bill I introduced last year. I see no reason why the administration can’t tackle this important issue in a bipartisan way once again.

In the Senate, 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 garnered 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 bills like the Rural Spectrum Accessibility Act, which made internet access more widely available in rural areas. We agree more often than we disagree.

History shows that infrastructure is a bipartisan issue, and it can be one again. But right now, Democrats are pushing a 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 to draft a bill that actually addresses our nation’s ailing infrastructure.

Last week, we introduced our own framework. It draws on our past bipartisan successes and focuses on roads, bridges, broadband, and other core infrastructure. This is how President Biden should go about this, and I hope he takes us up on our offer.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.