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Courtney talks infrastructure, budget

While "it's a good thing for the country that we get a bipartisan package through in terms of people's confidence in the government," U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney prefers the House's infrastructure plan over the Senate's.

The 2nd District Democrat discussed Congress's effort to pass an infrastructure bill on Wednesday, when it became clear that the Senate would vote in favor of starting debate on its version of the $1 trillion bipartisan deal.

He said he felt a lot of House members were concerned that the Senate’s package didn’t go far enough in allocating money for rail, waterways, public transit, ports, bridges and roads.

“There’s no question that there’s much needed upgrades and improvements in the package being negotiated. (New York Democrat and Senate Majority Leader Chuck) Schumer is determined to get it done and over to the House. We passed our own version of infrastructure, which, if you line them up side by side, ours is better,” Courtney said. “It boils down to one basic distinction in terms of the challenge of climate change. Given the fact that our transportation sector is the biggest emitter of carbon gas, we have to move away from the traditional formula of infrastructure bills in the past that were built around the automobile and large ground vehicles.”

He went on to say that the House bill has a larger investment in transit to try to make it more consistent and affordable, and to convince people to shift away from traditional car travel. He praised the House bill for its “huge investment” in rail and high-speed rail as well, while saying the Senate bill was “skimpier and more focused on repairs and upgrades.”

Courtney liked other aspects of the Senate bill, noting there’s good investment in broadband.

“Bringing this all back to eastern Connecticut, the need to aggressively upgrade broadband is an economic development issue for some of these small towns," he said. "They cannot entice commercial growth if they don’t have adequate internet availability, and there are definitely dead zones or weak zones all across the district.”

Democratic lawmakers also are trying to push through a more than $3 trillion budget resolution, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said needs to clear the Senate before the House calls the Senate’s infrastructure bill. Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said there will be no bipartisan infrastructure bill without the broader budget resolution.

But Courtney doesn’t believe the two measures are seriously affecting each other.

“I don’t think the notion that us taking up a budget resolution is going to inherently undermine Republican support for the infrastructure bill,” he said. “It has been well understood for weeks and weeks now that there’s going to be a budget resolution that will include the president’s agenda.”

As far as deciding between the competing infrastructure bills, Courtney isn’t yet sure how the House is going to work it out.

“Whether there’s a decision made to conference those two bills to try and come up with a conference report that would find a sweet spot of compromise, or whether we just go forward with the Senate infrastructure bill as is with the understanding that politically this is probably as good as it’s going to get, hasn’t been decided yet,” he said.

Lawmakers still are determining what the funding sources will be for the infrastructure deal.

Courtney said it would be paid for with a “hodgepodge of different savings and areas in the government.” He mentioned that the Congressional Budget Office affirmed that the spending plan would offset the price.

He said he feels Joe Biden is focusing on infrastructure in an attempt at his first signature policy achievement as president because it’s an achievable goal that can appeal to both parties.

Then, the congressman again brought the conversation back to eastern Connecticut.

“The state is going to get a 40% increase in federal money for (its) service transportation account, which will allow for things like fixing the Gold Star Bridge and dealing with the 395-95 interchange,” he said. “You don’t think of eastern Connecticut as a big transit place, but if all goes well and we get the funding I’m describing, we’re going to make this a real option for people to get to work and move around.”

s.spinella@theday.com

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