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The Biden administration on Wednesday set in motion its next big campaign in congress: A $2 trillion infrastructure plan to rebuild roads, bridges, power grids and other projects. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the plan.
For more on the president's plan, we're joined now by someone who'll play a critical role in implementing it if it becomes law. He's Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Mr. Secretary, welcome to the "NewsHour."
There is so much in this plan. We can't possibly talk about it in one interview. But let me ask you, what is the main change going to be in the lives of Americans if this becomes law?
Sec. Pete Buttigieg:
Well, the main change is that Americans will be able to count on having the absolute best infrastructure.
You know, as the report mentioned, we are 13th in the world, and headed in the wrong direction. Americans are being expected to settle for less. And you see that with the holes in our roads. You see that with the condition in our bridges, to say nothing of how things like our airports and our train systems are lagging so far behind what citizens in other developed countries can count on just as a matter of course.
The other way Americans are going to feel the difference is in the jobs this is going to create. This is going to open economic opportunity, not only to those who work in the transportation sector, but to every American who counts on great infrastructure to be able to get to where they need to be.
Can you say now how many new jobs are going to be created, and how quickly will they be created?
Well, now that the plan has been released, I expect a lot of economists are looking at that right now.
And I look forward to seeing some of the analysis that they generate. But what we know is, it is going to be in the millions. And it is going to make an enormous difference. By the way, this also stands to make transportation more affordable for Americans.
Many low-income families are spending up to 30 percent of their income just on transportation. We can and must do better on that. And we can do it in so many ways, from this doubling of resources for transit, so that people can get around their communities and neighborhoods more easily, to the investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure that will help more Americans go without having to pay to fuel up their car.
We are told that, unlike the economic stimulus plan that was passed under President Obama — this was 12 years ago — the emphasis here is not going to be, in every case, in so-called shovel-ready jobs that quickly generate economic growth. Why not?
That's right. This is a different focus.
That stimulus was about getting out of an economic emergency, which is also why the American Rescue Plan was so important. But the American Jobs Plan is looking to the future. Yes, we will be supporting hundreds of billions of dollars of shovel-ready projects, but we're also interested in shovel-worthy projects, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape America's infrastructure future, to make sure we're competing and winning, when other countries are doing so much more than we are.
And so it shouldn't just be about what is ready in the moment. It should be about what we want our American future to look like.
Now, of course, this is going to cost something. The president said today we're talking about raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, raising taxes on multinational corporations.
As you know, Mr. Secretary, Republicans are already saying this is a terrible idea, it is anti-competitive, that it's going to ultimately hurt working families in America because those higher taxes are going to be passed on to ordinary people.
I will tell you what is anti-competitive. It is having third-rate infrastructure being further degraded by a generation of failure to invest.
That is costing us our competitiveness every day. We know that this is going to create jobs. It's going to create economic strength. And the president does believe in a tax code that rewards work, rather than wealth. That is something that I think most Americans can get on board with.
And the other — one of the other criticisms we're hearing from Republicans, besides — aside from the cost of this, is that only a small portion of it deals with traditional infrastructure.
For example, Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman was saying President Biden is, in his words, redefining infrastructure to include things that have never been considered infrastructure before, like — and he is saying health care, work force development, research and development.
How do you answer that?
Well, infrastructure is being redefined whether we keep up or not, and that is not a bad thing.
Look, I'm transportation secretary, so I think a lot about things like roads and bridges that are more traditional. But, in these times, broadband is absolutely an essential part of infrastructure. Water, it might be underground, so you don't see it, but it is just as important, and often important to just the ability of communities and families to thrive at all.
This is infrastructure too. The grid, after what we just saw in Texas, Americans citizens melting snowballs in their bathtubs to be able to flush their toilets, that should never happen again. And I absolutely consider that part of an infrastructure package, even if it is not part of the transportation piece that I work on every day.
Another comment we heard from President Biden today, he said this is going to provide transformational change in addressing climate change.
But now we see — and this is the argument from the other side — progressives in your party who are saying there is not enough in here to deal with climate change. They are saying there should have been more money, more projects. Why isn't there more?
Well, this is, again, an enormous investment.
This is something that represents more than we have been able to do in my lifetime and a long time before that. And it positions us to beat the climate challenge with things like electric vehicle infrastructure, the kind of rail and transit resources that we need as a country, and the kind of R&D that is going to move us to the future.
And if we're striking the balance between people who think it should be even bigger and those who are asking us to do less, I think that is evidence that this plan is a strong one that can attract the support of most Americans.
But are you hearing that criticism from your fellow Democrats right now?
You know, right now, I think a lot of people on both sides of the aisle are digesting the plan.
And let me say, the president has put out a strong vision, but this is a great time to hear those critiques, hear those ideas, hear those refinements. And if people have a different or better idea on any piece of this, including how to pay for it, let's hear it.
So, you're saying it could change between now and what happens in Congress?
This is day one of a process that we know is going to go through a lot with Congress. I have been on the phone with Democrats and Republicans all day, as well as a lot of other stakeholders, and we know that that natural give-and-take is only going to make this a stronger plan.
But the president set out a clear vision. He is insisting on going big. And I think it is a great beginning for not just the kind of infrastructure week that used to be a punchline here in Washington, but an infrastructure season that is going to give us a better infrastructure future.
And just finally, Mr. Secretary, President Biden has spoken about wanting bipartisan support.
But if you end up with no Republican votes for this, which we know is possible, how much does that undercut what the administration is trying to do, after you — you ended up with no Republican votes on the COVID relief bill?
Well, the strange thing about the COVID relief bill was, it had enormous bipartisan among the American people, just not here in Washington.
I believe, if there is any area where we can get that bipartisan support in Washington, just like there is out among Americans, it is around these infrastructure issues that are so important, because every member I talk to, no matter how progressive or conservative they are, comes from a district or a state where their citizens who sent them here to Washington are dealing with the consequences of that disinvestment every day and know that we need to do better.
Secretary of Transportation, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, thank you very much.
Thanks for having me.
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