GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As talks on infrastructure continue in D.C. between President Joe Biden and the top Senate Republican negotiator, U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Michigan) came to Grand Rapids to hear from West Michigan leaders about what they want to see prioritized in a potential infrastructure spending bill.
“As I look at infrastructure, we certainly talk about roads and bridges, roads and bridges are a classic definition but things are, in my mind, broader than that,” Peters said during a roundtable discussion at MDOT’s Grand Region headquarters Wednesday.
Not just roads and bridges, but broadband, cybersecurity, sustainability and skilled labor were mentioned among the laundry list of areas local leaders want to see federal investment in.
“These are critical projects, they are costly projects and if we are going to move the needle on really investing as you said in 21st century infrastructure, we need to do it together,” Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said.
The Biden administration is pushing a massive, nearly $2 trillion infrastructure spending plan that Peters says is bold and long overdue.
“We understand, President Biden understands that we need to have a 21st century infrastructure in this country," Peters said. "Currently we lag so many countries around the world, I think we're ranked 13th in the world. I don't want the United States to rank 13th in anything, we need to be at the top of that list."
The junior senator from Michigan is hoping it will be a bipartisan package, saying it shouldn't be looked at as spending, but as investment.
Right now, the two sides appear to be pretty far apart.
Republicans argue Biden's plan covers more than what can be considered infrastructure and it's too expensive. Their latest counter-offer costs just under $1 trillion but the majority of spending comes from funds set-aside for COVID-relief.
If a deal doesn’t get done soon, Peters anticipates Democrats would pass it themselves, calling infrastructure investment “critical.”
It's possible Democrats would need only 50 votes in the Senate to pass an infrastructure package if they use the budget reconciliation process, the same thing Dem lawmakers used to pass the American Rescue Plan with no Republican votes.
When asked if he thinks that sets a bad precedence , Peters says the majority of Americans supported the American Rescue Plan and he anticipates the same for the infrastructure package.
“That legislation that was already passed was supported by well in excess of 70%, of the American people, to me that's bipartisan legislation,” Peters said.
“It simply did not receive a Republican vote from members of the House or the Senate in Congress and in my mind that shows they're out of touch with the people back home who thought this was important legislation that needed to pass. And with strong support all across the country, I believe this infrastructure package is in that same category,” he added.
The White House has given Republicans a deadline of June 7 to get a deal done. Peters is hoping an infrastructure package is signed into law by the end of July.