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McConnell nixes infrastructure in next economic recovery bill

Additional legislation must be “directly related to this pandemic,” majority leader says

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is putting the kibosh on including an infrastructure plan in the next round of coronavirus spending, confirming Tuesday to Fox News that he does not believe it’s appropriate to use the pandemic to pay for infrastructure.

“I’ll be clear: Infrastructure is unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic that we’re all experiencing and trying to figure out how to go forward,” the Kentucky Republican said, adding that the federal government has “borrowed an incredible amount of money here over the last month.”

“We need to make sure that whatever additional legislation they do is directly related to this pandemic and to get it in the rearview mirror and get the country back up and running again,” McConnell said.

President Donald Trump has said repeatedly during the pandemic that he believes an infrastructure plan would help revive the economy. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said last week that Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have all communicated that they wanted infrastructure funding in the next pandemic response bill.

Trump, asked about McConnell’s ambivalence toward including infrastructure in the next package, acknowledged that “a lot of people, a lot of Republicans would like to keep that as a separate bill, so we’ll see how that works out.”

Trump on March 31 called for a $2 trillion infrastructure bill on Twitter. 

“With interest rates for the United States being at ZERO, this is the time to do our decades long awaited Infrastructure Bill,” he tweeted. “It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country!”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also said she’d like to see infrastructure spending in coming pandemic relief efforts. On April 1, the California Democrat convened a press call indicating that she’d like to include the House’s five-year $760 billion infrastructure spending plan in the relief bill after the roughly $2 trillion spending package passed in late March.  

Instead, that $483 billion relief bill was used to refill the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loans and Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan grants and emergency spending for the Department of Health and Human Services and the SBA.

“With tens of millions of Americans out of work and entire swaths of the economy shut down by a global health crisis, the country is now on the precipice of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression,” said Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who argued “the best way to re-start our economy and put workers first is with a massive investment in the kind of infrastructure that will help future generations succeed.”

The Senate has a highway transportation spending bill, and could act on that independent of economic recovery programs. 

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last July passed a surface transportation bill authorizing $287 billion over five years. The panel began preliminary work on drinking water and wastewater bills last week, releasing drafts of two bills and beginning the process of engaging stakeholders.

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