U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “Rebuilding Infrastructure in America: Administration Perspectives,” at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. The hearing will focus on the Administration’s infrastructure proposal, including a discussion of various policy reforms, permitting improvements, and program ideas outlined in the White House’s proposal.
- Secretary Elaine Chao, U.S. Department of Transportation
- Secretary Wilbur Ross, U.S. Department of Commerce
- Secretary Alexander Acosta, U.S. Department of Labor
- Secretary Sonny Perdue, U.S. Department of Agriculture
- Secretary Rick Perry, U.S. Department of Energy
*Witness list subject to change.
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 106
This hearing will take place in Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 106. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
Chairman John Thune
Good morning. Today, we are here to discuss infrastructure in America.
In 1956, President Eisenhower and Congress saw the need to move people and goods quickly across the country, and their vision of an interconnected nation paid off – helping to fuel years of economic growth. The infrastructure built in that era continues to fuel growth today, but now we face the challenge of maintaining and improving these critical assets. And our infrastructure needs are evolving in ways that would have been impossible to predict just a few decades ago. For instance, with the rise of the Internet and cell phones, we face the new challenge of building infrastructure to facilitate access to these technologies for everyone. The principle is the same today as it was then: our nation must stay interconnected.
Unfortunately, we are all familiar with the statistics: the 56,000 structurally deficient bridges; the eight billion hours Americans are stuck in traffic each year; the list goes on. These statistics mean fewer jobs, less time with family, and lower growth.
In rural states like South Dakota, millions of Americans lack access to reliable high-speed Internet, and aging transportation links between agricultural communities and global markets hurt our farmers and ranchers.
In response to these needs, President Trump released an ambitious proposal to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, by generating $1.5 trillion in total investment over the next ten years.
The proposal would speed project delivery and lower construction costs, by limiting the permitting process to two years and reforming workforce training programs.
The participation of five cabinet Secretaries at today’s hearing – something that is extraordinarily rare on Capitol Hill – underscores the Administration’s readiness and enthusiasm to work closely with the Commerce Committee and the rest of Congress on infrastructure. Collectively, we share the goal of developing a bipartisan plan that works for rural and urban areas alike.
The Committee is joined today by a very distinguished panel: we have Elaine Chao, the Secretary of Transportation; Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce; Alex Acosta, the Secretary of Labor; Sonny Perdue, the Secretary of Agriculture; and Rick Perry, the Secretary of Energy.
While the Senate Finance Committee will ultimately have to examine what we can afford and how we pay for it, we at the Commerce Committee first need to get the policy right, and make sure we are moving together with other relevant Committees of jurisdiction.
As we do so, I’d offer a few principles for the consideration of my colleagues:
First, this is not just another highway bill. We will consider other infrastructure needs, such as rural broadband and water projects, and seek to break down barriers that are impeding the deployment of all types of infrastructure. Along these lines, the Administration’s proposal takes a broad approach to infrastructure and offers several policy ideas to speed deployment.
Second, we should build on our successful programs, and where necessary remove inefficiencies. The Administration’s proposal outlines important reforms to some existing programs, particularly on the infrastructure financing side.
Third, we must ensure any legislation is national in scope and that all areas are appropriately included. Rural communities face unique difficulties due to lower population densities and challenging geographies. I appreciate that the Administration’s proposal acknowledges the acute needs in rural communities that lack necessary infrastructure. Investing in these areas of America will benefit the entire country.
Fortunately, improving our infrastructure is an area where bipartisan agreement should be achievable:
- Both sides want to invest in and modernize our infrastructure.
- Both sides want that investment to address an array of infrastructure needs – not only roads and bridges but also needs like broadband and waterways.
- Both sides want to break down barriers for innovative technologies.
- Both sides want to make our existing programs work better.
As exemplified by Ranking Member Nelson’s willingness to work with me on infrastructure legislation, both sides can come together on this. It can happen this year.
Again, thank you to this distinguished panel of witnesses for being here today. I look forward to hearing your perspectives and suggestions for collaboration between the Administration and the Congress on infrastructure. I will now turn to Ranking Member Nelson for his opening statement.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Common sense will tell you that we need to increase our investment in infrastructure.
You just have to look out your car window when you’re stuck sitting in rush hour traffic on I-95 in South Florida or I-4 in Orlando to know that we need to do more.
Our roads, rivers, rails and broadband are vital links to connect communities and businesses.
But if you look around the country – they are all experiencing the impacts of decline.
And, it’s only going to get worse.
In my home state—Florida—the population is growing by nearly one thousand people per day.
The demands on our infrastructure are going up rapidly, but our investment isn’t keeping pace.
And we also have unique challenges in Florida to address, such as rising seas, nuisance flooding, and saltwater intrusion which are accelerating damage to roads and pipes.
So, we need to take action.
I hope we can start by getting some answers today from our distinguished panel. It’s not every day that we have five Cabinet members before us.
My first question is: how are we going to pay for this?
The president’s plan calls for 200 billion dollars but has no clear way to pay for it.
At the same time, the administration’s budget cuts critical infrastructure programs.
We can’t cut our way to prosperity.
My state knows this all too well as we saw what happened when the governor returned billions of dollars that would have been used to build a new high-speed rail line.
This was a missed opportunity for Florida.
Second – should we maintain the federal government’s role as a strong partner to our states and communities or add more toll roads and fare hikes?
I think the answer should be clear.
We can’t toll our way out of this problem.
To address our infrastructure crisis, a few of my colleagues and I put out a plan for how we can invest a trillion dollars to rebuild and modernize our roads, bridges, waterways and broadband networks.
This is real money and it is completely paid for.
The plan will make important investments that could help projects around the country and in Florida.
For example, just to name a few, it could be used to expand I-4, rebuild the Howard Frankland Bridge and expand access to quality and affordable high-speed internet service not only to the underserved in many of our cities, but also the unserved in places like rural Florida.
It could also be used to upgrade the nation’s aging 9-1-1 system, which Congress should make a priority to keep our citizens safe and enhance public safety.
We need to invest in projects like the ones I just mentioned.
That’s why I plan to work with Chairman Thune and my colleagues on this committee to try to find the best ideas for how we can invest in our infrastructure.
I look forward to hearing from the panel on the importance of infrastructure and how the federal government can continue to be a partner.
Witness Panel 1
Secretary Elaine ChaoU.S. Department of Transportation
Secretary Wilbur RossU.S. Department of Commerce
Secretary Alexander AcostaU.S. Department of Labor
Secretary Sonny PerdueU.S. Department of Agriculture
Secretary Rick PerryU.S. Department of Energy