- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2020

House Democrats on Thursday rolled out a more than $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, billing it as an economic stimulus to create jobs and fight the recession brought on by the coronavirus crisis.

The massive package would go beyond the traditional projects of transit and roads to include green initiatives, housing, broadband and additional funds for schools.

“We started with the coronavirus with meeting emergency needs, then moved on to mitigation. We still have to do some of those things and now move on to recovery,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“With the interest rates where they are now there’s never been a better time for us to go big to think big, as the head of the Fed has said to us,” the California Democrat added.

Rebuilding the country’s highways, bridges, railways and airports has been a top priority for President Trump and Congress for years but they could never clear budget hurdles for the lists of costly, long-overdue projects. However, with Washington eyeing more stimulus spending after having already run up nearly $4 trillion on the federal credit card, this could be a rare opportunity for an infrastructure deal.

Unemployment skyrocketed during the pandemic as lockdown orders went into place, with 21.4 million jobs lost in March and April, though many were optimistic about chances of recovery when the jobless rate fell to around 13.3% in May.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio warned that lawmakers need to help foster new job creation to help the country as the economy begins to reopen.

“We’re going to need a lot of jobs when we come out of this. A lot of jobs aren’t coming back,” said Mr. DeFazio, Oregon Democrat. “And we’re going to be in something that looks a lot more like the Great Depression than the Great Recession.”

While infrastructure is historically a bipartisan issue, it’s unclear where Republicans — always wary of large price-tag packages — stand on the Democrats‘ proposal.

President Trump is considering a $1 trillion infrastructure plan of his own to jumpstart the struggling economy. In April, he discussed a $2 trillion plan.

A tentative 2019 deal rapidly fell apart after tensions between House Democrats and the White House spiked as calls for Mr. Trump’s impeachment ramped up on Capitol Hill.

Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have been increasingly nervous about spending after Congress approved close to $3 trillion in coronavirus emergency funds. The deficit jumped up to $1.9 trillion in the first eight months of the fiscal year, the Congressional Budget Office said.

There is more than $400 billion allocated for transportation purposes — $300 billion will be invested in improving and modernizing existing roads and bridges, while a $100 billion will be put into expanding access to public transit. To combat carbon pollution, $1.4 billion will go toward electric car charging stations.

Democrats also put $70 billion toward updating and modernizing the electric grid to accommodate renewable energy. The bill would promote green initiatives across the country by providing new tax incentives for new green technology while also encouraging the manufacturing of eco-friendly cars and buses.

The package would invest $100 billion in broadband to expand access to internet and Wi-Fi underserved rural, suburban, and urban communities, especially as these low-income communities are facing an economy increasingly reliant on internet access.

Democrats put $100 billion toward high-poverty schools with crumbling infrastructure that they estimate will create 1.9 million jobs.

It also puts $100 billion toward affordable housing to either create or preserve an estimated 1.8 million affordable homes. The bill expands the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and creates a new Neighborhood Investment tax credit that would subsidize certain development costs in “distressed areas.”

For financing, the package would support local and state governments with investments by permanently reinstating bonds, like the Build America Bonds, and shoring up additional tax credits.

The bill would also touch on other areas: $30 billion to upgrade hospitals hard hit by the coronavirus, $25 billion to the Post Office, $3 billion grant program for beautification projects in marine ecosystems.

Democrats have been eyeing an infrastructure package since last year, reinvigorating the push in April as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic and shutdown of the economy.

Meanwhile, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has been marking up a massive $500 billion surface transportation bill for more than 12 hours that would provide for the Highway Trust Fund.

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