President Biden last week completed eight days overseas where he rallied western democracies around commitments to distribute vaccines to the world, combat climate change and rebuild the global economy from covid-19.
While the president was abroad, a bipartisan group of senators worked hard to seize a real — but fleeting — opportunity to craft a historic infrastructure package. I joined 20 colleagues from both parties in supporting this framework that Congress should debate, pass and send to the president’s desk. We now have a chance to strengthen our competitiveness and boost our economy, and doing so through a bipartisan bill now will unlock further progress we need across many areas.
The United States already has made a strong start toward that recovery. We are the only Group of Seven country where projections for growth are higher than they were in 2020. Unemployment is down, vaccination rates are up and the Senate just passed bipartisan legislation to invest in manufacturing and R & D to position the country to lead in industries of the future and compete with China.
On infrastructure, though, our country lags far behind. We all drive on an Interstate Highway System that was built mostly in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and we have airports, roads, bridges and tunnels that are failing by any analysis and make us less competitive globally. While our nation has underinvested in infrastructure for decades, China has invested three times as much — both domestically and internationally, eclipsing the United States as the leading investor in infrastructure in the developing world.
Passing a bipartisan infrastructure deal is not only key for our domestic economy but also vital in the larger contest with our global competitors. China and Russia are telling the world that democracy and capitalism are in decline and that their model of authoritarianism is superior at meeting the needs of their citizens. People in other countries are starting to believe it. We need to show citizens here at home — and around the globe — that our democracy can still deliver meaningful solutions.
The group led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has produced a package with $579 billion in new spending anchored by a down payment on rebuilding our roads, bridges and highways. It includes the surface transportation bill that was approved unanimously by a Senate committee last month and boosts funding for highways, roads and bridges to $300 billion — a more than 30 percent increase from what we previously spent. It will fix rail lines and improve public transit, easing congestion, cutting commute times, reducing emissions, and connecting people with new opportunities in nearby cities and towns. It will reduce bottlenecks by expanding port and airport capacity, and it will build out electric vehicle infrastructure and modernize our electric grid.
It will also improve the resiliency of our infrastructure, which is vulnerable to storm surges and sea level rise. A single day without service on the busy 457-mile Northeast rail corridor — as happened during Hurricane Sandy — would cost the economy $100 million.
The new measure will recognize that clean water and broadband are necessary for everyone. It will make critical investments to modernize our water systems, and it will ensure families in every community have the connectivity they need to work and learn. The pandemic highlighted significant gaps in access to reliable high-speed Internet for learning, health care and work.
There are good reasons to move forward with this measure now. Bipartisan bills are more likely to enjoy enduring support in Congress, across different administrations, and broadly from the American people, which helps bring our country back together. Additionally, the reality of a 50-50 Senate is that we need the support of our entire Democratic caucus to make progress on our broader agenda. Now that we have 21 senators of both parties supporting the largest infrastructure bill in modern times, we should move ahead quickly.
Some in my party have argued that passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill would make the rest of President Biden’s agenda harder to enact. That is exactly backward. Enacting a bipartisan infrastructure proposal is the best way to strengthen our recovery and secure the support of our entire caucus for investments in health care, education, child care, and tuition-free community college, and for combating climate change — proposals that enjoy broad support from the American people.
Finally, updated infrastructure is badly needed in red and blue states, and nothing will showcase that the United States is back like seeing Republicans and Democrats coming together around a bold infrastructure package that will make us more competitive around the world.