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Rep. Maloney On Infrastructure, Paying For It, And The House GOP Leadership Shakeup

Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney
WAMC, Allison Dunne
Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney

Negotiations are set to resume next week after Republican senators outlined a $928 billion infrastructure proposal Thursday — a counteroffer to President Joe Biden’s more sweeping plan. The two sides are struggling to negotiate a bipartisan compromise and remain far apart on how to pay for the massive spending. The Republicans want to tap unused COVID-19 relief funds to help pay for it. But the White House has panned that approach, saying states and small businesses still need those dollars. Biden prefers raising the corporate tax rate.

Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney of New York’s 18th district introduced his own infrastructure priorities this week. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee member spoke with WAMC’s Ian Pickus soon after.

Congressman, what is in the infrastructure package for the Hudson Valley that you announced on Thursday?

Well, there's a lot. I mean, we're talking about a massive infrastructure package that that we have an excellent chance of getting done this summer. I've got a bill that would put $28 billion specifically at all of the structurally deficient bridges in this country. We've got 40,000 nationally, 1700 in New York, a bunch in the Hudson Valley. These are these little bridges, the county level bridges you ride over every day. It’d make a big difference to get those in a state of good repair. I've also announced legislation that would send $300 million to our scenic byways in the Hudson Valley, we got a bunch of them. So anybody who's ever driven around Storm King Mountain, or on any of the scenic byways that we’re so famous for, that would really help our region as well. And there's more. I've proposed $43 million in 14 specific community projects on both sides of the river, a lot of bread and butter stuff, focusing on water systems and sewer lines, piers for waterfront communities, but also important things like the pure trail connecting Cold Spring and Beacon on the east side of the river. That's the kind of thing I'm focused on.

Now, is this part of what President Biden is proposing and negotiating as we speak with the Senate Republicans? They've gone back and forth a few times. Is your idea here part of his larger infrastructure spending plans?

That's exactly right. So I I'm on the committee, in the past chaired the maritime transportation subcommittee, including the Coast Guard subcommittee, which is why we were able to ban oil barge anchorages. I did that on the Hudson River last year. So I'm on that committee, and I'm deeply involved in these conversations. We're going to be marking up the bill in the next two weeks. And we hope to have it on the president's desk by the end of the summer.

Now the House is one thing. The Senate is another. What do you think of where talks are right now?

I think they're moving along, I think we have a big decision coming about whether to take a smaller package that will be bipartisan, or to go for a bigger package that might be along a party line vote. They aren't quite the same thing. There's more to it than just the money because there's a procedure in the Senate, and a thing called the Byrd rule, which will limit what we can do even if the even if the spending is larger. Some of the programs that really matter to me, some of those community projects I just talked about, would not get done. So there's a lot of reasons why we want a bipartisan package. That's what I'm working on. The Republicans have come a little bit our way on that. But there's still a big distance to close. And I don't think the President's gonna wait forever. Because if they're not going to come to the table in good faith, then we really do need to just move forward. But let's give it a chance.

You said earlier this year you thought this could be done by the end of summer. You still sound pretty confident of that timeline, yes?

Yes, absolutely. I think you're gonna see us move a bill out of the House by the Fourth of July, we'll mark it up and get it out of the committee in just the next two weeks. The Senate timeline will take a little longer but and it will also depend whether we go through the budgetary reconciliation process, as I mentioned, or a more typical legislative route, if it's a bipartisan bill. But either way, the point here is to keep this thing moving. That's why the president and all of us have kept the pressure on the other side to not just drag their feet, if they if they want to get a bill done with us. We want a bipartisan bill. But we are going to get a bill done one way or the other. That is our commitment. And to get it done. I think by the time kids are going back to school on the president's desk signed into law. And the point is that you could get a 20 to 40% increase in the state DOT budget for the 2022 contracting season. So you've got projects with five years of funding visibility starting as early as next summer if we get the bill done right now.

Well, do you think the Republicans are serious about a bipartisan deal?

Well, we're gonna find out. I mean, you know, the talk is cheap, even irrelevant right now. It's what you do, and what you're willing to cooperate on, you know. If they're playing games, and they just want to, you know, take a bunch of money that is dedicated to something else, ending the pandemic and move it over here, yhat's not going to work. The White House has made that clear. Unfortunately, that's the current proposal so it looks a little better, but they're playing games with the money. You know, they need to get serious if they want to do a big bill. If they just want to sit back and oppose everything and be against everything. I think that's too bad because the American public deserves to see us working together. But right now with the Senate in Democratic hands with a with a president who's serious about this, we can get the bill done without them. We can't do as good a bill even if we have a lot of spending in it. And so I'm committed to a bipartisan bill. But we are not going to wait around forever. We want a bill on the president's desk by the early fall.

So I take it based on what you've just said, this new idea that's been floated as kind of a backup plan to use already allocated COVID relief funds, and rework them for infrastructure spending, that's not something you think is a good idea.

Well, why would that make sense? I mean, we're talking about, we're talking about money that in many cases has already been spent, that addresses critical local needs, and ask all the Republicans locally, by the way, county executives who are Republicans in Dutchess County, Marcus Molinaro, in Orange County, Steve Neuhaus, who supported that rescue plan funding with me. Talk to the town supervisors all over our area, they're all Republicans, they're all they're all counting on those resources, not to mention the school districts, by the way. That's what's going to keep people's property taxes from getting goosed when all these places have deficits without that help. So why would we rob Peter to pay Paul? The truth is, if there's one place we should be investing, it's in infrastructure, it's not spending at all. These are investments that will create wealth over the next couple generations. We should do it. And I don't think it's the right thing to weaken our effort to recover from the pandemic, just because we also need to invest in infrastructure. And one last point, if this if the funds aren't spent by the school districts, or the local governments, if they if they can't qualify for that money, it will go back to the Treasury. We don't need to rob the infrastructure bill in advance.

Just one last thing, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you. You're in charge of the House Democrats’ re-election operation for 2022 in the midterms. Your New York colleague, Elise Stefanik, has been elevated to the number three role in the GOP and she says retaking the House is their top priority. What do you make of the shake up on the Republican side? And how confident are you that you will hold the House next year?

What we're gonna do is we're going to deliver for the American people. We're going to end this pandemic, we are going to reboot this economy, get it booming again. And then we're going to go back to the public, we're going to build infrastructure, we're going to go back to the public and say, we've got results. And if you want to keep these good results flowing, if you want more jobs, lower health insurance premiums, cheaper child care, health, raising your kids, if you want to rebuild our schools and our communities the right way, if you want to do all the things we've started, then let's keep it going.

I think on the Republican side, you know, they're having a big fight. The reason my colleague from the North Country Elise Stefanik was elevated was because they kicked out Liz Cheney, because Liz Cheney wouldn't go along with Donald Trump and the rest telling this big lie about the election being stolen. So I don't think that says anything good about what's going on in the other party. And that would be bad enough, but it's getting in the way of getting things done for the American people, because you got a bunch of people pretending to be in Congress like Matt Gaetz, or Marjorie Taylor Greene, who are really just doing something else. They're trying to get on TV or raise money or get followers on Twitter. I want partners who will do the work.

And I'm disappointed in my colleague, Congresswoman Stefanik, for essentially going along with the big lie that the election was stolen so that she can get herself in leadership. What I want is partners who do the work and I think that's what the country deserves. That's what the Hudson Valley deserves. And I'm and I'm grateful that we have a president who is determined to find some bipartisan adults in the room to get an infrastructure bill done in the next few months. So that's why I feel both hopeful about getting something done, but also of keeping the House because right now we're the only adults in the room, frankly, and I'm concerned that the other side has not been behaving responsibly.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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