Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he sees the sweeping, $2 trillion-dollar infrastructure proposal President Joe Biden will unveil Wednesday as both an opportunity to negotiate with Republican lawmakers and to “act big” on things like transportation, climate change and jobs.
In an interview with Spectrum News Tuesday, Secretary Buttigieg noted that improvements to infrastructure are already popular with most Americans, including Republicans.
It signals that Biden officials may use the same definition of bipartisanship that they used to promote the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill: popularity outside Washington. But while the relief bill didn’t garner a single Republican vote in Congress, the secretary said he hopes the legislative outcome will be different this time.
“I think infrastructure is the one case where we got a really good shot at having that be different,” Secretary Buttigieg told Spectrum News. “It's already popular among the American people. And now we’ve just got to make sure that's actually reflected on Capitol Hill.”
President Biden is expected to lay out the first phase of his infrastructure package when he visits Pittsburgh on Wednesday, and it will be the first of two proposals that make up his economic plan. Altogether, the package could cost more than $3 trillion, and the White House hopes to see the first part get a vote by this summer.
But Republicans are already suspicious of the plan, which will likely be paid for through tax hikes, including for corporations and people making more than $400,000 per year.
“We’re hearing the next few months might bring a so-called infrastructure proposal that may actually be a Trojan horse for massive tax hikes and other job-killing, left-wing policies," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said last week.
On Tuesday, Secretary Buttigieg defended the administration’s proposal as necessarily bold but with room for negotiation.
“We'll see where the process takes us in terms of exactly how the legislative pieces move, but the important thing is we've got to act, we've got to act big,” the secretary said. “And the President's going to lay out a clear vision on exactly what that could look like.”
Secretary Buttigieg also addressed concerns about the potential loss of jobs as the U.S. moves toward clean energy and away from things like coal.
“It's time to break the old false choice of climate versus jobs,” he said, noting that many “clean” jobs require some of the same labor and skill, such as building electric cars versus gasoline-powered ones.
“The science is giving us some very stark deadlines,” he added. “I think preventing the destruction of lives and property and jobs due to climate change is one of our biggest responsibilities. And, again, the good news is we can do that in a way that also creates millions of good-paying, lasting, often union jobs.”
Secretary Buttigieg also told Spectrum News that the Department of Transportation was looking to electrify its own fleet of vehicles, and he said that “every part of the U.S. government” should do the same.
Included in Biden's infrastructure proposal is a plan to electrify the federal fleet of vehicles, including the United States Postal Service.
Last month, the U.S. Postal Service signed a contract that would add thousands of electric mail delivery vehicles to its fleet over the next ten years, though Democratic lawmakers this week urged USPS to pause the contract until President Biden’s nominees to the Postal Board of Governors are in place.
On public transportation, a major target for infrastructure improvements, the secretary promised a “long-term vision” as part of the president’s announcement tomorrow, which he said would create a “permanent” facelift for things like bus and metro systems.
During the pandemic, demand for public transit dropped about 73% across the U.S., though demand stayed high among essential workers. Immigrants, people of color and lower-income workers are the most likely to depend on public transportation, which many cities cut back on this year.
Secretary Buttigieg told Spectrum that the administration’s infrastructure package will include much more than the $30 billion set aside for public transit in the COVID relief bill passed earlier this month.
“We were looking at the threat of layoffs, the threat of service being cut, and the Rescue Plan gets us out of the woods,” he said. “Now, getting out of the woods is not the same thing as a permanent, long-term vision.”
Once the president announces his infrastructure proposal Wednesday, he’ll roll out the second part of his economic plan in the “in the coming weeks,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, which will focus on “creating economic security for the middle class through investments in childcare, healthcare, education, and other areas.”
It’s likely to include major domestic priorities such as universal pre-kindergarten, free community college, and paid family leave, according to The Associated Press.
Watch Spectrum News' Taylor Popielarz's full interview with Secretary Buttigieg above.
Note: Spectrum News' interview with Secretary Buttigieg took place prior to the announcement of the infrastructure plan.