Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said Sunday that he believes it could be possible to get Republicans on board with President Joe Biden’s massive, $2 trillion infrastructure bill that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said he plans to fight “every step of the way.”
“I’m having a lot of conversations with Republicans in the House and Senate, who have been wanting to do something big on infrastructure for years. We may not agree about every piece of it, but this is one area where the American people absolutely want to see us get it done,” Buttigieg told ABC’s “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos.
“In my view, this is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. I don’t think in the next 50 years, we’re going to see another time when we have this combination of a demonstrated need, bipartisan interest, widespread impatience and a very supportive president who is committed,” Buttigieg added.
But while Buttigieg said he was hopeful that bipartisan work on the bill was possible, he hinted that passing the measure along party lines was not out of the question.
“One way or the other, we’ve got to get it done,” he said.
Dubbed the “American Jobs Plan” by the White House, it goes beyond traditional infrastructure projects of repairing roads, railways, bridges and ports, with Biden declaring it a “once-in-a-generation investment in America.”
The plan includes $621 billion in updates to modernize roads, rails, ports, airports, mass transit and highways, as well as $100 billion to eliminate 100% of lead pipes.
It also includes $400 billion for community-based care for elderly Americans, a $180 billion investment in clean energy and $100 billion to build out high-speed broadband across the country, paid for in part by increasing the corporate tax rate lowered under former President Donald Trump to 21% up to 28%.
The White House has previewed the proposal will be followed up by a second package in the coming weeks focused on “human infrastructure,” with additional funding for schools, health care and childcare.
Buttigieg said he was confident the administration would “find strong deal space” with Republicans and even some moderate Democrats, like Sen. Joe Manchin, who are opposed to raising the corporate tax rate to 28% to pay for the infrastructure package through pressure from the American public.
In an earlier interview with Stephanopoulos, Sen. Roy Blunt said he has reached out to the White House “a couple of times,” and told them they have “an easy bipartisan win” if they keep it narrowly focused on infrastructure.
“There’s more in the package for charging stations for electric vehicles than roads, bridges and airports and ports,” he said Sunday. “It’s a small part of what they’re calling an infrastructure package that does much more than infrastructure.”
Stephanopoulos raised that point with Buttigieg.
“It is true that only about 5% of this bill goes for traditional roads and bridges? You’ve got 20% caregiving for the elderly, about 13% for investments in like the Green New Deal — so why not focus on that traditional core infrastructure?” Stephanopoulos pressed Buttigieg.
“Let’s be clear, there’s a lot more than roads and bridges that are part of infrastructure,” Buttigieg said in response.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Sen. Blunt but I’m going to work to try to persuade him that electric vehicle charging infrastructure is absolutely a core part of how Americans are going to need to get around in the future and not the distant, far-off future, but right now,” he added.
The White House is working on dual tracks to sell the bill to members of Congress and their constituents, to push for compromise on both sides of the aisle. Part of the sales pitch is touting the package not only as an infrastructure measure, but also a plan that will create millions of jobs, in part through the administration’s clean energy efforts, that have been met with skepticism from some labor groups.
Buttigieg said he understood the reluctance of some union workers who say that the positions the administration is looking to transition them to are not comparable with the jobs they currently hold.
“I’m not saying we’re gonna take a machinist and turn them into a computer programmer. What I’m saying is that we’re gonna have jobs for insulators on these building retrofits and painters and carpenters — all good union jobs,” Buttigieg said, defending the plan.
“We’re not talking about extremely mysterious job creation here. We’re talking about jobs that already exist,” he added.
As the White House hopes to move ahead on Biden’s second legislative undertaking with bipartisan support, they will also face the challenge of keeping factions of their own party on board with the measure to get it done. The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor brushed off criticisms from Progressive Democrats, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said the bill did not make a hefty enough investment. He said the criticism was “a natural part of this conversation.”
When it comes to Democrats who said they will not support the measure until state and local tax deductions — capped during the Trump administration — are reinstated, Buttigieg said the administration is open to looking at ideas on how to make that happen, but also stressed Biden wants to see progress on the policy.
“The president is hoping for major progress from Congress before Memorial Day, and we can’t allow this thing to just keep dragging on because the need is there today. Each passing day our infrastructure crumbles, that hurts our economy and it puts our safety in danger,” he said.
“We’re determined to make sure that infrastructure week is no longer a punch line around Washington. That’s what this robust plan will do and it’s time for action.”