U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin said she wouldn’t rule out using reconciliation to get parts of President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure package passed through Congress.
Baldwin, D-Madison, in a WisPolitics.com virtual infrastructure event today called for a “robust investment” in both state and national infrastructure. She said the state could use dollars for both traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges, as well as other areas like broadband.
With 50 seats plus VP Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote, Dems control the U.S. Senate. It would take a 60-vote supermajority to break a potential GOP filibuster of the bill. However, Dems could use a budget construction rule called reconciliation in order to pass parts of the package with only 51 votes. Republicans have slammed Dems for using the rule as a way to push through a partisan agenda.
“I’m not sure we will end up avoiding reconciliation in some aspects,” said Baldwin, who spoke about two bipartisan infrastructure bills she is working on. “But as I indicated, there are opportunities in areas of agreement.”
While Congress has largely split along partisan lines on the $2 trillion cost of President Biden’s plan and how to pay for it, she held out hope for bipartisan efforts on smaller portions of the bill.
The Madison Dem noted how the U.S. Senate for the next two weeks is slated to debate an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in research and development programs in order to keep the nation competitive with growing powers like China.
“If our economy is to grow and we are to remain the leading economy in this world … then we do need to make this definition of infrastructure quite expansive and we need to make these investments,” she said.
While the Biden administration had proposed the initial infrastructure plan, she said the president has largely left it up to lawmakers for “the fleshing out of the details” in getting parts of it passed.
In a separate segment of the event, a bipartisan panel of local leaders said they’d use federal dollars to update roads and prepare for the electrification of the transportation system.
Panelists included Wisconsin DOT Secretary Craig Thompson, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Waukesha County Exec. Paul Farrow and Neenah Mayor Dean Kaufert.
Barrett, a Dem, said he didn’t believe the proposed federal investments in infrastructure were too broad. He suggested the city could use the money to, among other things, modernize public street lights and replace lead pipes.
And while he noted most lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for a long time have called for investments in infrastructure, he said he struggles to see how the parties will come to an agreement on funding.
“I’m not optimistic that you’re going to have bipartisan agreement on how you’re going to pay for it,” he said, noting the Dem proposal to raise corporate taxes would directly conflict with Republicans who voted to cut those taxes to historic lows.
Meanwhile, Farrow urged people to “look at the big picture” when it comes to the infrastructure bill and how it would impact the budget. The former GOP state senator said only about 25 percent of the proposal targets aspects that have been traditionally seen as infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.
But all panelists agreed on the importance of expanding broadband connectivity throughout the state.
“We’re all in agreement that broadband is important for the future,” Farrow said. “It’s as important as the phone system was.”
Barrett highlighted that so-called “broadband deserts,” or areas lacking extensive broadband coverage, aren’t solely a rural issue. He said many lower-income families in urban areas also struggle to access both affordable and quality internet access, a problem that especially affects school children learning from home due to the pandemic.
Panelists mostly agreed they could use the extra money to improve roads and prepare for electric vehicles.
Thompson praised Dem Gov. Tony Evers’ previous budget which added some $465 million for road projects. But he warned the investment — the first of its kind in decades — was only enough to “stop the decline,” not to build back better. Plus, he warned the state needs to prepare for the influx of EVs coming down the pipeline from major manufacturers.
“We have a long way to go,” he said. “And a proposal with this kind of money would be an absolute shot in the arm.”
Kaufert, a former top GOP Assembly member, said a bipartisan agreement on paying for transportation infrastructure — in Madison or Washington, D.C. — “isn’t in the cards.” But he added he felt the attitudes are beginning to change as major car manufacturers like Ford and GM announce plans to go fully electric in the coming decade.
“This is probably the direction we’re heading, so at some point, someone will have to deal with this,” he said.
Barrett added he felt the state needs more legislation on EVs, since at the moment primarily wealthy households have electric cars. And he didn’t want poorer families who still use combustion engines to be the primary ones paying for road maintenance with the gas tax.