Buttigieg pitches 'once in a generation' infrastructure fix

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FILE - In this March 4, 2021, file photo, President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, right, meet with Vice President Kamala Harris and members of the House of Representatives in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, on infrastructure. Buttigieg says America's infrastructure needs exceed $1 trillion and that other countries like China are pulling ahead. It's a disparity that Buttigieg is calling a threat to our collective future in prepared remarks to Congress. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON – Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called for a once in a generation infrastructure investment Thursday that would address a massive backlog in needed improvements for the nation's roads, bridges and transit systems, while also tackling climate change.

Buttigieg avoided specifics on how it would be paid for, but said that the current level of investment poses “a threat to our collective future."

“Across the country, we face a trillion-dollar backlog of needed repairs and improvements, with hundreds of billions of dollars in good projects already in the pipeline," Buttigieg said. “We see other countries pulling ahead of us, with consequences for strategic and economic competition. By some measures, China spends more on infrastructure every year than the U.S. and Europe combined."

The hearing exposed some of the obstacles that President Joe Biden's administration will face as Congress takes up a public works buildout, testing Biden’s campaign promise to reach across the political aisle to address national problems.

Congress just passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill and Republicans are wary of adding trillions more to the national debt. They are also worried about how far Democrats intend to broaden the scope of infrastructure to include investments designed to move the country toward net-zero carbon emissions.

“A transportation bill needs to be a transportation bill — not the Green New Deal,” said Republican Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, referring to a sweeping Democratic plan to shift the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels. “This needs to be about roads and bridges. ... The more massive any bill becomes, the more bipartisanship suffers.”

Buttigieg's appearance before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee came as Biden has been meeting with economic advisers on an emerging $3 trillion package of investments on infrastructure and domestic programs. He is set to release details in a speech in Pittsburgh next week.

Biden said at a news conference Thursday that his proposal aimed to create a significant number of “really good-paying jobs,” which “used to be a great Republican goal and initiative.” He added that a “majority of American people” are tired of decaying infrastructure, such as roads and bridges badly in need of repair, due in part to the impact of climate change.