Portman Praises Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act on Senate Floor Ahead of Final Passage Vote

August 9, 2021 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, on the eve of the expected Senate passage of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) again took to Senate floor to discuss the need for a historic investment in repairing and rebuilding our nation’s core infrastructure, and how this landmark legislation he helped negotiate will do just that. Portman highlighted how the United States has fallen behind in investing in infrastructure compared to foreign competitors like China, and how failing to do so will have lasting economic costs.

Portman also drew a distinction between the long-term supply-side spending with no tax hikes in the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act and the immediate demand-side spending in the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion reckless tax and spend bill that will be coming to the floor this week under reconciliation. As multiple economists have found, the spending in the infrastructure bill will have a counter-inflationary effect at a time when consumer prices are soaring.

Finally, Portman highlighted the broad support this legislation has received both in the Senate and from more than 100 industry groups representing a wide range of stakeholders in the public and private sectors. He urged his colleagues to see this historic legislation through to the end to do right by the American people.

A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.

“I appreciated the comments from my colleague from Connecticut and he talked about both the bipartisan infrastructure bill that’s on the floor of the Senate and will be voted on tomorrow morning, and he also talked about the budget proposal that is also going to be considered by the Senate this week. I want to start by just being sure that those two are distinguished, because there’s a big contrast between them. 

“The bipartisan infrastructure package, I believe, is a sensible approach to restoring our nation’s infrastructure, as we’ll talk about in a moment. And that legislation, again, is meant to be voted on tomorrow morning. The other proposal is the $3.5 trillion or more budget resolution that will be partisan, not bipartisan, that’s being proposed by the Democrats, which is a tax and spending extravaganza. And my concern is not only does it spend a lot of money we don’t have – and not on long-term assets like infrastructure, but on social programs – but also it raises taxes substantially.

“In fact, it raises taxes more than taxes were cut back in 2017, which created such a strong economy going into the pandemic, and I really do worry about what’s going to happen to our country should we do that. The bipartisan infrastructure package has no tax increases. The $3.5 trillion budget resolution has these huge new taxes. I will tell you, most economists believe that the tax reform and tax cuts back in 2017 led to not just an incredibly strong economy, but an inclusive economy.

“Going into the pandemic, February of 2020, we not only had historically low levels of unemployment for certain groups in our economy –  Blacks, Hispanics and others – we had a 50-year low in unemployment overall. We had the lowest poverty rate ever recorded in the United States of America. We started recording it back in the 50s. We also had wages that were going up consistently, more than 3 percent annually for 19 straight months going into the pandemic. That was fantastic. In my home state of Ohio, we had seen flat wages, or even declining wages when you take inflation into account, for years. Probably a decade and a half.

“So things were working. And even coming out of this pandemic, most economists had thought that, ‘Wow, we have a pretty darn resilient and resurgent economy here,’ and you see the economic growth numbers. Last month and this past quarter, I mean, the economy is doing just what we had hoped it would do coming out of the pandemic.

“To raise taxes now and to get rid of these tax cuts and tax reforms – importantly, tax reforms as well – that created this strong opportunity economy is a huge mistake. So I would just draw a very distinct contrast between what my colleague and friend from Connecticut was talking about, because you kind of mixed the two. One is infrastructure that’s bipartisan, no taxes. The other is a different kind of spending, social spending, that we cannot afford. And on top of it, huge new tax increases.

“So I hope that we will choose to vote tomorrow on the infrastructure package in a bipartisan way because it is landmark and needed legislation in fixing our nation’s roads, bridges, railroads, our ports, our waterways, our electrical grid, our broadband network and more. And I’m proud of the work the Senate has done on that. It will be a lasting bipartisan achievement to help the people we represent. It’s going to improve the lives of all Americans. It’s long-term spending to repair and replace and build assets that will last for decades. In doing so, it does make life better for people. It improves the life of the mom or dad who commutes to work and gets stuck in rush hour every day who would much rather be spending that time with their family. It improves the lives of people who are tired of those potholes. We all want to fix those potholes. We all hate them. 

“One quick story there – when I’m asked how I got into public service, I often relay a story that when I was seven or eight years old, I remember driving with my mom on a rough road and telling her, ‘Someday, Mom, I want to fix these potholes.’ And she loved to tell that story. And that’s my first exposure to what it could be like in public service, being able to fix potholes. Unfortunately, I then went on to public service at the federal level in the House and the Senate and two Bush White Houses, and I never got to fix any potholes. Maybe this legislation is taking it full circle, because it will be fixing potholes and it will make driving more safe. 

“There’s a story I want to relate recently in Cincinnati, Ohio, a guy named Howard Krueger was driving along I-75 South and a big piece of concrete fell down from a bridge called the Western Hills Viaduct, which is in terrible shape. It is one of our crumbling infrastructure assets we have to fix. A big piece of concrete hit his windshield. Thank God it didn’t come through the windshield or kill him, but it shattered part of his windshield. He actually pulled off the road to go try to find the concrete, to get it off the road for someone else and to talk to the work crew that he assumed had dropped it. He went up and looked up. There was no work crew. It was just concrete falling from the bridge. 

“Infrastructure, it matters to people. It is about safety. That truck driver who leaves his family to go on a long haul, he wants to have a road and a bridge that is safe. We recently had another accident in Ohio. It was on the Brent Spence Bridge, two trucks colliding. There’s barely any shoulder left on that bridge because it is carrying twice the number of vehicles it was meant to carry. Twice. It is functionally obsolete. And yet we’ve talked about it for 20 years and nothing has happened. After 20 years of talking about it, it’s time to get something done. 

“Here in this town, we’ve talked about infrastructure being improved for a long, long, long time. Longer than 20 years. In fact, every president in modern times has proposed a big infrastructure package. And yet we never seem to get it done. Donald Trump actually proposed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package. This one we’re talking about today is $548 billion. He’s a developer. He understands the need for infrastructure, to make investments in hard assets, because it comes back to help the economy. 

“So whether you’re that truck driver or whether you’re that mom or dad or whether you are somebody who lives in a rural and underserved area of our country because you don’t have access to broadband, and you can finally now get it for your school work or your work or for your health care, this is going to make a difference. 

“It improves our ports at overcapacity. Right now at our seaports, ships are backing up. If you’re trying to get a product and you’re a consumer, you’re wondering why you’re not getting it? That might be the reason. And guess what, it also invests in our overwhelmed southern border land ports with $3.85 billion to GSA and Customs and Border Protection. So for those of you concerned about the southern border and what’s happening there, this infrastructure bill does help. It helps with our land ports and our seaports and therefore helps Customs and Border Protection.

“We also have more for water infrastructure in this legislation, clean drinking water. Lead pipes are a big issue in my home state of Ohio as it is in other states. That is dealt with here. Remediation of the lead pipe danger and risk. So there’s a lot in here that helps people, helps make their lives better. Very importantly for me, it also makes our economy more efficient by fixing that bridge, by fixing that port. When you make the economy more efficient, the economy becomes more productive. When the economy is more productive, you have higher GDP. When you have higher GDP, you have more taxes coming into the economy than you would have had otherwise. That’s what happens with infrastructure spending if it’s done right.

“It’s been made clear in poll after poll this is something that actually brings our country together. According to a CNBC poll, 87 percent of Americans think it’s important that we invest in improving our crumbling roads and bridges. A month or so later, a CBS poll found 87 percent of Americans support more federal spending on repairing roads and bridges. An Associated Press poll found eight in 10 Americans – 80 percent – favor plans to increase funding for roads, bridges, and ports, and for pipes that supply drinking water.

“So of course it’s popular because it affects their lives and they know it. And we need the investment right now. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our infrastructure a ‘C-’ and projects our economy stands to lose more than $10 trillion in GDP by 2039 should we fail to invest in repairs. We have fallen to 13th in the world in a report card on infrastructure, while China continues to spend much more than we do as a percent of their GDP on infrastructure. Why? They want to have a more efficient economy. We want to be able to compete and win the global competition. We, too, should be sure our infrastructure is up-to-speed. 

“The need for fixing and repairing our nation’s infrastructure is clear, it’s no surprise, again, that these presidents, through the modern times, including Donald Trump, have suggested it. Frankly, I believe Donald Trump’s advocacy infrastructure helped change the way many in the Republican Party view these kinds of investments.

"This investment in repairing and upgrading our infrastructure will also have a real and lasting impact on our economy long-term. There’s a lot of discussion about inflation right now. Again, making the economy more efficient, more productive, growing the economy that’s what economists would call, by investing in hard assets and jobs, the supply side. These are supply-side investments. This is why economists have said, including Michael Strain of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, this will be counter-inflationary. That’s important to note, too. By the way, this money is not going to be spent next year. It’s not going to be spent hardly at all in the next year. It’s going to be spent over 5, 10, 15 years on these long-term projects. 

“There is one recent study by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers finding that this legislation will create about half a million new jobs by 2024. So it’s also about new jobs in industries ranging from construction to plumbing to electrical engineering to software development. Importantly, it accomplishes these goals while avoiding the tax hikes that will kill our economy, destroy jobs, and undermine our competitiveness around the world.

“That’s why I started talking about the $3.5 trillion that is wrongheaded in my view. In part because of the spending, but in part because of what it would do to our economy at a time when we were trying to get back on our feet post-pandemic. We’re going to provide billions in funding for some of our most pressing hard infrastructure needs, like $110 billion in new spending over the next five years to construct, rebuild and maintain our roads and highways.

“I heard one of my colleagues say, ‘Well, only 24 percent of this money goes into roads and bridges and ports.’ That’s just not true. The number actually is about 42 percent in the roads and bridges alone. This is going to make a big difference in my home state of Ohio. We’ve got 123,000 miles of roads. Traffic congestion costs motorists an estimated $4.7 billion each year in lost time and wasted fuel, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“The same group, the Society of Engineers, says there are currently more than 46,000 bridges in our country that are considered structurally deficient and in poor condition. Yet 178 million trips are taken on these deficient bridges every single day. Ohio is number two in the nation in the number of bridges. We got a lot of them, but nearly half of those are not in good condition. That’s why I’m pleased this legislation does provide for new funding for our bridges. It will award competitive grants to improve the bridges that would help with all of our bridges, but particularly a huge problem in Ohio, which is the Brent Spence Bridge – this dangerous bridge I talked about where there are no shoulders anymore, and it’s bearing twice the number of vehicles per day as it was constructed to do. It’s considered structurally obsolete for years. For two decades. It’s time to fix it. 

“We also do something here that is very important to stretch that federal dollar and to take out some of the inefficiency in the way we construct our roads and our bridges and other infrastructure. We make needed reforms to the federal permitting process and give project sponsors more certainty to help them create more jobs and develop our nation’s infrastructure with less cost. This was a priority of the Trump administration that was never codified into law. But in this bill, we actually expand and improve what’s called FAST-41, which was in the last highway bill, not the one currently, but before, but it has a sunset on it. And these permanent reforms have worked. They’ve lowered the amount of time. They’ve saved billions of dollars for key permitting projects. We make this a permanent part of our law. 

“Also the surface transportation bill itself has additional permitting reform in it. This, frankly, is better permitting reform than we’ve been able to get for years, even when we had a Republican president, Republican Congress. I’m very pleased that that’s part of this legislation. And it should be. All Americans should support that. Taking the average from currently 6, 7, 8 years down to 2 years for a project, why doesn’t that make sense? Everybody should be for that. 

“We also make necessary investments in the future of our economy on the digital side by increasing access to broadband services. In Ohio, that’s really important. We’ve got a bunch of counties, about 15 of them with a significant number of households that are unserved. We’ve got probably another 8 in addition to those 15 counties that have a significant number of underserved households. In Appalachian Ohio, we need internet. We need it fast enough so people can start a business, so kids can use it for school, so veterans can use it to get their health care and not have to drive into the big city.

“These are only a few highlights, and I could go on, but the bottom line is we are dedicating this $548 billion in new infrastructure spending over the next 5 years toward a wide range of projects that will collectively have a positive impact on our economy and on the American people. 

“This has been a different sort of process, I acknowledge that. And frankly, a lot of this, I think, should have been done directly through committees, particularly with regard to transit, with regard to broadband. In other areas, we simply picked up the work of the committees, surface transportation as an example. Much of the work by the Commerce Committee, the EPW Committee, and others. The ENR committee, the Energy Natural Resources Committee. Many of us worked hard to ensure that this was a truly bipartisan project, but also that we got the best input from all the experts here in the Congress. 

“I would have drafted this bill a little differently if it had been just me, I’m sure everybody feels that way about it. It was a true bipartisan project and therefore there were concessions made on both sides. But I’m proud of the broad support it’s received in this chamber. I’m proud of the broad support it received from the outside. More than 100 industry associations, unions, trade groups have already come forward to endorse the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act. Among them, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, the AFL-CIO Building Trades Council, the American Farm Bureau, the Conference of Mayors, the National Governors Association, on and on and on. 

“They comprise advocates for business of all sizes, workers, farmers, governors, mayors, engineers, conservationists, truckers. I think it’s safe to say we’ve got an impressive coalition that once this legislation passed for all the right reasons. They want to see this investment in our country. They know it’s the right thing to do for our economy, for our future. I thank all the stakeholders who’ve endorsed this legislation for their support. Because of all these combined efforts, tomorrow, I believe, will be getting it right for the American people, for our economy, and for the future of our great country.

“I look forward to seeing this legislation pass the Senate tomorrow, and I urge the House to pass it soon so that it can move to President Biden’s desk for his signature.”