April 21, 2021
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.) spoke on the Senate floor today to urge Democrats to work with Republicans to reach a bipartisan agreement on an infrastructure bill. Blunt discussed areas where Republicans and Democrats could find bipartisan agreement on solutions that would improve America’s roads, bridges, and waterways without raising taxes on families and job creators.
Following are Excerpts of Blunt’s Remarks:
“Mr. President, I want to talk also about infrastructure and associate myself with the interest that the country has in infrastructure. And, in fact, one of the things that the government has done the longest has been roads and bridges and canals.
“And, I think initially the term was 'internal improvements' was what, in the early 19th century, they would have talked about when they talked about what we began to talk about later as infrastructure. But, during almost the entire history of the country, there was an understanding of what infrastructure meant in America, and infrastructure is pretty popular.
“Infrastructure is definitely something that you generally can't do for yourself. You can't on your own provide the water line that connects your house to the next house. On your own, you can't provide the road that gets you from home to work. On your own, you can't do a lot of things that we did early on and up to right now and call them infrastructure.
“Normally, they were seen as things like roads and bridges and dams—big projects that sometimes crossed state lines or big projects that sometimes were just too big for a state or a town to handle, like water systems that need to be improved. And, when we did that, I'll talk later about the way we did that. That bipartisan agreement also largely led to figuring out ways that infrastructure would pay for itself, that the people who use the infrastructure would pay for the infrastructure. And, we looked at that in a number of different ways.
“Now, in the package that the administration has proposed—the $2.3 trillion package—there are lots of things in there that I don't disagree that the Senate should debate. I don't even rule out of hand that the country might want to do. But, I think they're not infrastructure. And, the funding way to get to them makes it harder to have the kind of bipartisan agreement that I think we could have in an infrastructure bill. Republicans are for it. Democrats are for it, in the House, in the Senate. Let's talk about how to get there.
“But let's also make the point that, you know, the $213 billion in this plan that is for Green New Deal building makeovers. There may be a place to do that. And, it's something that, Mr. President, we can clearly debate. But, it's not the same thing as infrastructure where—I was the chairman at one time of the Missouri Housing Development Commission. We did a lot of things to make it possible for people to have houses or people to have buildings that they could have an opportunity to be in a part of that building. But, we never really called it infrastructure. And, we did it in a different way.
“On surface transportation, generally for decades that was paid by the Highway Trust Fund. And, how did you fund the Highway Trust Fund? You fund the Highway Trust Fund by people pulling up to a service station, putting fuel in their car. And, when they did that, they paid into the Highway Trust Fund. The more miles you drove, the more you paid into the Highway Trust Fund. And, Americans thought that was fair. Now, we haven't raised the highway gas tax since 1993. That could very well be a debate we should have as part of an infrastructure package. If not the gas tax, what other kind of user fee could there be?
“Lots of people use the highways, the roads, the bridges, the interstate highway system that don't pay gas tax now because they're transitioning to vehicles like electric vehicles that don't fill up at that gas pump. That's a debate I think we should have as part of an infrastructure debate. Just last year, it was predicted that the Highway Trust Fund would run out of money before the year was over. And, it does because we collect less money every year than we spend every year. So, we decided to subsidize that out of general revenue but nobody in that debate ever thought that should be the permanent solution.
“In other kinds of projects, we look for ways to help the end user make a project possible. Both in urban communities and rural communities, there are programs where you can replace your water system or your stormwater system with something that works, but price it appropriately. And, what we've done there is said, 'well, we're going to figure out how we can either guarantee your bonds or write down your loan or both.' And so, the user in those systems, over maybe 30 years, would pay back in an amount they could afford what happened when you turned the lead water pipe into an appropriate water pipe. And, I'm in favor of replacing every lead water pipe in America. But, I think you can do that in a way that the users of those systems pay for those systems just like all of their neighbors and neighboring communities are paying for their systems. We can help them do that, and we have proven we can help them do that.
“We could also create an infrastructure bank. Senator Warner and I have worked on that for years. I think we're going to reintroduce the REPAIR Act that would really be a nonpartisan financing authority where government guarantees a certain amount of that money. And, maybe government assistance in putting together a public-private partnership creates another way that a little bit of federal money creates a lot more infrastructure activity.
“You could look at these and other issues like asset recycling, where government leases or sells some existing public infrastructure and uses the proceeds of that to fund new projects. In Australia, they use that system to help pay for an expansion of subway systems and other things. And, in fact, the federal government would encourage local governments to privatize one of their local government assets that had customers. And then, they'd take that money maybe and build sidewalks that don't have customers. And, the water system that did have customers would have helped build the sidewalks as it's managed by a private company. But, all those private companies are regulated in a way that people who are customers know they're protected.
“We have had a lot of bipartisan infrastructure bills over the last decades and more than decades. Infrastructure bills are not new to America. Figuring out how you have an infrastructure bill that meets the definition of infrastructure and a system where the infrastructure goes as far as it possibly can to pay for itself by those people that use it, it's always involved Republicans and Democrats reaching an agreement. I don't know that there's ever been a partisan infrastructure bill. It's always involved reaching agreement on what would be in the bill and reaching an agreement on finding ways to pay for it.
“Let's find a way that we can move forward in a bipartisan way with an infrastructure bill that meets the standards of infrastructure and meets the standards of doing everything we can to be sure that that system is fairly paid for by people who use it and can afford to pay for it. With that, I'd yield back.”