Countering Misinformation About Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) countered misinformation about the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, bipartisan infrastructure legislation negotiated by Senator Romney and his colleagues.

It is said that politics is the art of the possible, and I’m afraid that over time someone might argue that politics has become the art of confusion. There’s so much confusion that goes on around issues of significance, that sometimes the media has a hard time of what is a fact and not a fact. Perhaps in some cases the confusion is purposefully spread by politicians like me and some others and I would like to reduce the confusion for those paying attention to this debate. I’ll begin by focusing on some things that I think we can all agree on. The first is that we as a nation need to invest in our infrastructure. Our highways are in disrepair. People spend too long getting to and from work. People in businesses shipping goods from one place to another find they get stuck in traffic for a long period of time, it hurts our economy and makes it difficult to be competitive globally. I think we can agree with that. Bridges as well—we have structural engineers that say thousands of bridges are in disrepair. Some are in such bad repair that trucks have to go the long distance routes to avoid those bridges that are so damaged.

We need also to make an investment in rail. For a time I lived in the Northeast, people traveled from Boston to New York and New York to Washington, and on Amtrak in many cases it takes almost as long to get to those places in Amtrak as it would be to drive because the rail is in disrepair and because we compete on that—passengers compete on that rail with freight. So we need to upgrade. Our transit in many cases is in disrepair. We use a lot of technology for our rail cars. Modern technology has the cars themselves that are powered as opposed to a locomotive engine. We can improve the technologies we’re using. We’re just out of date. I think we can do a better job connecting communities through transit systems like buses that can change their routes as commuting routes also change. I think we can agree broadband ought to be available to all Americans whether in rural areas or low-income areas.

Kids need to be able to connect to their schools and get their assignments and follow what’s going on in the world through the media, through the internet. People need to be able to use telehealth to get consults with doctors. If we’re going to have economic growth in our urban areas or rural parts of our country, we need to have businesses know they have access to high-speed internet or they simply won’t go there. Our water systems are in need of repair. We have some water systems that date back a hundred years—pipelines back a hundred years. We’re going to have to upgrade some of these. We have lead pipes such as in Flint, Michigan. That disaster there can’t be repeated anywhere else and we have to do a good job to make sure we, in some cases, are beginning to remove and replace lead pipes.

Wildfires are becoming a bigger and bigger issue on the American West, and we need to have a better program to mitigate and prevent wildfires. Our power grid in many cases needs to be upgraded. It’s vulnerable to cyberattack. It’s also vulnerable to various weather events that cause blackouts in various parts of our country. Fortunately with regards to power in this legislation, we also add some efforts to look at new technologies, nuclear, hydrogen, battery power and so forth as a way to reduce our dependence on oil and gas. Permitting reform. I think we also recognize that sometimes it takes us way too long for projects to get under way. That adds to cost and it’s frustrating to consumers as well. All these elements and more are addressed in this bipartisan infrastructure agreement that’s before the Senate right now. That’s what this bill is all about: addressing those infrastructure needs. I would note that this is not a partisan issue. It has not been. Every modern president—well, I should say every president in the modern era has proposed an infrastructure package, the need to improve our infrastructure. President Trump, the last administration, proposed a $1.5 trillion plan.

The bipartisan proposal is $550 billion, about one-third of President Trump’s proposal. Now, again, confusion—we hear all sorts of numbers but this is $550 billion—$550 billion above what we normally spend. If you add in what we normally spend, that gets you to about a trillion. But that’s a different matter. That’s the normal run rate over the five years. If you add that to $550 billion, you get almost a trillion. There’s confusion also about how many pages there are. I mean, the reality is there are 2,700 pages in this bill. And I think the public says how in the world could anyone possibly read something like that and keep up with it. Well, as the presiding officer knows, about 2,000 pages of this were already passed by the various committees of jurisdiction. And some of the people that are most vocal critics—siting the 2,700 pages to read—they’ve had access to portions of them because they’re on the committees that passed them. And of course in addition to the 2,000 pages, there are other pages that have been written and are before committees to consider. Something else I’d note. And that is in addition to not having raised taxes to pay for this $550 billion infrastructure program, this bill is paid for. The Congressional Budget Office has scored about one half of it as being paid for under their rules. The other half is also paid for by real dollars. Not the way CBO scores it under their rules but just as real.

Sometimes, for instance, a pile of funding, a pile of cash, has been previously allocated and not used. And so it goes back to the Treasury and the CBO says we can’t score that because it’s already been appropriated once. I understand that, but it’s real dollars. And you might say why don’t we just let it go back to the Treasury and reduce the deficit? Let me tell you something. That will never happen because our Democrat friends are planning on putting in place a $3.5 trillion bill of their own which would surely grab all of that money and everything else that comes along. So it’s not going to go back into the accounts of the federal government to reduce the deficit and debt. Instead it’s going to be used on the spending spree that my colleagues across the aisle are planning on carrying out soon.

I affectionately call that $3.5 trillion spending spree the blue whale. It’s very, very large, the largest. It’s soft and it’s blue. But ours is going to be used for real, hard infrastructure. Of course it’s about one-seventh the size of the blue whale, and I might call it the roadrunner by comparison. I recognize there’s been some criticism of this bill, and it’s not without faults. It was after all the product of work by Republicans and Democrats. Ten of us were tasked by our group of 22 to see if we could come up with something. And to get Republicans and Democrats to agree to something together means that there are some things we like better and some things my colleagues across the aisle like better. There are some things if it just were up to Republicans we wouldn’t have in there. My guess there are some things if it was just up to Democrats they wouldn’t have in there.

But it was after all a meeting of people from both parties to find something that could actually get a bill done because as the presiding officer knows, we’ve had several presidents try and get a bill done and it’s never gotten across the finish line. So this was an effort to say let’s break the logjam and get something actually accomplished so we can deal with the infrastructure challenges that we virtually all agree America faces. Now, criticism is expected and I’d note criticism is also pretty easy. Any time you have a bill that’s worked out by compromise between two sides, why, the side that looks at the other side’s work is going to criticize it. I can point at all the things I don’t like about the bill. I won’t waste anybody’s time doing that I do ask my colleagues, if you don’t like this bill, what bill do you like instead? What would you do instead? President Trump’s $1.5 trillion bill, how would you pay for that one? What would you spend that money on? Because ours is one-third the size of that proposal. So one can stop and say what would you do instead.

I know some people would say, well, nothing at all. We don’t want to spend any money at all, no bill. Let’s not spend a dollar on infrastructure. That’s, I’m afraid not an option in reality because we have to options. One is to accept the bipartisan work of our respective colleagues and the other is to say hey, because the Democrats have the House and the Senate and the White House, just let them do it all by themselves without any Republican input at all. And I’m pleased that the president decided not to take that course and that the Democrat leadership here in the senate concluded as well. That’s not the right course to take. The bipartisan approach was better. But let me note that if the option were taken to have a Democrat-only bill, my estimate is that it would cost about $500 billion more than our $550 billion bill, that it would expand union rights through Davis-Bacon with prevailing wages on areas where it’s not currently existent. There would be more money going into things like transit and Amtrak, more money for lead pipes, more money for administrative costs. We hold administrative costs under 3% of this bill. There were many efforts to try and raise that as high as 10%. That would mean tens of thousands of new federal government employees. We held it at 3%. That in my opinion would change if it were simply a partisan one-party bill. We made some of these funding efforts into loan programs where states are people who would take advantage of the funding would ultimately pay them back. My guess is if it were a bill that did not have our input, some of these would be transferred into grants.

Now, there’s another criticism that gets raised and that’s that this bipartisan agreement and the bill before us is just a gateway to the blue whale, that this is going to open the door to the $3.35 trillion—$3.5 trillion plan that the president has proposed. I don’t really follow that one terribly well, that argument because obviously if there’s no agreement on this legislation, if it doesn’t pass or if the house blows it up in some way, why then this effort, the hard infrastructure effort will just be added to the blue whale, to the $3.5 trillion. That’s going to get done anyway. And this would become part of that. So there’s going to be an effort to pass a blue whale one way or another. I hope it doesn’t pass, by the way, but this is not just going — this is not a gateway to anything but a gateway to better bridges, better water, better broadband in rural communities and a better economic vitality for our country. Now, I do admit that I do understand and appreciate the argument that’s being made.

One criticism that’s being made of this bill by some in my party, which is by being in favor of this legislation for $550 billion, we’re going to confuse the voters and they’re going to think that we’re also all part of this big blue whale thing. We’re spending $550 and my colleagues across the aisle want to spend $3.5 trillion and it’s all one big massive spending mess and it’s going to be hard for the voters to understand the difference. And we’re going to get blamed for the whole mess. I subscribe to what Lindsey Graham said. He said, I think we can make it pretty clear to our voters that we love one and we hate the other. That’s what my Republican colleagues would hopefully say. That’s the way I would say it. I love one and hate the other. But I happen to feel that this is not so much a matter of confusion as a matter of recognition, what’s right for America.

Because by being for this bill, even though there is a risk of some confusion, we do save about $500 billion for the American people and reduce the deficit over time by about $500 billion. We do restrict Davis-Bacon from being expanded into areas where it’s not now. We do hold down some of the transit spending and the Amtrak spending. We hold down administrative costs and the number of federal employees that are going to be hired for these programs. So in my opinion we have to put aside sometimes the politics for what’s absolutely right for America. I’m sure some people are a little disturbed when they see headlines that say oh, this bipartisan effort would look like a win for Biden. Well, it’s a win for Republicans. It’s a win for Biden. It’s a win for Democrats and a win for the Senate to say we can work together. That we can overlook partisan differences to do something for America. I’m convinced that this is a win for America. I support this legislation. I’m proud to have been part of the effort to help draft it and negotiate it.

I admire and respect my colleagues on both sides of the aisle that have worked on this legislation. We calculated just the other day that we had had over 50 meetings amongst that group of individuals, the ones that I attended, over the last several months in preparation for this bill. It’s not a slap together effort. It was carefully considered. It was drawn upon and built upon legislation already passed by committees overwhelmingly time and time again wherever we could. And I certainly hope that the senators from both sides of the aisle will join together in passing this legislation, sending it to the House, that the House will address it in a way that’s consistent with what we have agreed to, and we can send it to the president and help America finally get its infrastructure in order.