By Linda F. Hersey
Sen. Lisa Murkowski was part of a bipartisan group of U.S. senators who joined President Joe Biden Thursday to announce they reached a deal on an infrastructure package that would not raise taxes on Americans.
The plan calls for $579 billion in new spending for a range of projects, from repairs to roads and bridges to modernizing ports and waterways.
“We have a deal,” Biden said in a press conference outside the White House with the core group of Senate negotiators, including Murkowski.
“This is a historic infrastructure proposal. We have never made such a significant investment in our nation’s infrastructure,” Murkowski said later in a phone interview with the News-Miner.
“We did not want to impose on the taxpayers’ additional debt burden,” Murkowski added. “It was important to make sure that the investment in our infrastructure was paid for in a responsible way.”
The anticipated funds would come from more than a dozen sources that include direct-pay municipal bonds to attract more investments, reallocating unused Covid-19 relief dollars and tapping unemployment insurance supplements returned to the U.S. Treasury by more than two dozen states.
‘Legacy infrastructure’ to grow economy
Murkowski described an ambitious plan for “legacy infrastructure” that will not only improve roads, bridges, marine highways, ports and broadband, among other services, but also will create millions of jobs to grow the American economy, including in Alaska.
As an example, Murkowski said that the U.S. economy benefits when the nation has greater capacity to move goods quickly and efficiently, whether by rail, sea or air.
“So this is jobs, this is economic development, but this also goes to our competitiveness,” Murkowski said.
A total of 20 senators endorsed the agreement Thursday.
Biden had first met with a small group of GOP senators, including Murkowski, then a mix of Democrats and Republicans, as he pushed for a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan. Murkowski was part of the 10-member group, composed of five Republicans and five Democrats, who negotiated the final deal.
“It was really important to have a perspective that someone like me could lend coming from a very rural state and a state that does not have a lot of infrastructure,” Murkowski said about the negotiations.
The agreement reached is for $579 billion in new spending over five years — $312 billion for transportation and $266 billion for municipal water systems, broadband and other large projects. It also includes a national network of electric vehicle charging stations and electric buses for mass transit fleets.
“Different parts of the country are situated so differently,” Murkowski noted. “I said, ‘You know it is important that we ensure water safety, but let’s not forget there are parts of the country where there are no pipes, lead or otherwise. Let’s make sure we incorporate all of America when we are talking about infrastructure and infrastructure needs.”
Young: Urgent need for improvements
While the agreement means that the Biden administration cleared a major hurdle, the package still needs to be submitted as a bill, undergo debate and pass both chambers of Congress.
U.S. Rep. Don Young, who supports infrastructure improvements, responded favorably to the agreement.
Zack Brown, Young’s communications director, said the congressman looks forward to reviewing the bill when it is released.
Young “recognizes the urgent need to fund America’s infrastructure, and is encouraged by ongoing bipartisan negotiations,” Brown said.
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan also lauded the progress.
“Sen. Sullivan has long emphasized that any infrastructure package must be bipartisan in nature, so he is pleased to see the outline of a deal come together,” said Nate Adams, press secretary for Sullivan.
Sullivan is working to ensure that Alaskan priorities are met through future legislation, Adams said.
“The senator has been providing input to his colleagues throughout the process, particularly emphasizing that traditional infrastructure — like roads, bridges, ports, runways and broadband — is prioritized,” Adams said.
Added Murkowski: “I hope people look at this as an investment in America’s future and that it is worth pursuing.”
The 20 senators who worked on the bipartisan deal issued a joint statement after Biden held a formal press conference on the deal.
“This agreement shows that the two parties can still come together, find common ground and get things done that matter to everyday Americans,” the senators said.
“We are happy to have President Biden’s support, and will now get to work enlisting the support of colleagues on both sides of the aisle.”
In addition to Murkowski, the other GOP senators who participated are: Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Todd Young of Indiana, as well as Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine.
Democratic senators who participated are: Chris Coons of Delaware, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jon Tester of Montana and Mark Warner of Virginia.