May 15,2024

Wyden Remarks on Republican Proposal to Cancel Thousands of Infrastructure Projects

As Prepared for Delivery

The Senate will take a vote shortly on a resolution from Senator Schmitt dealing with infrastructure funding. 

The discussion of this resolution has been pretty quiet. That’s because on its face, this looks like an issue dealing with a whole lot of budgetary lingo -- obligated funds and expenditure deadlines. 

The reality is that this is a pretty simple issue.  

In short, this proposal is anti-infrastructure. It could put stop-work orders on thousands of infrastructure projects all over the country. Some of them have shovels in the ground as we speak. A whole lot of workers in hardhats today will be out of a job tomorrow. 

Here’s the background. In 2021, Congress passed emergency funding for state and local governments. 

At the time, there was a big concern that their budgets would get clobbered by the pandemic, which had hammered our economy and put millions out of work. But state and local budgets fared better than expected.

Later on, Senators were looking on a bipartisan basis for smart ways to rebuild our infrastructure -- roads, highways, bridges -- water and sewer -- even broadband projects. 

There was bipartisan agreement that Congress ought to allow that leftover state and local funding to be repurposed for those vitally important infrastructure projects. 

So the two sides passed legislation -- multiple times, even by unanimous consent -- that provided more flexibility. 

Now, I hear members on the other side talk all the time about wanting to cut red tape, get the federal government out of the way and empower the states. The laboratories of democracy, the saying goes. 

Here’s a case where my colleagues on the other side got what they wanted! More flexibility for the states to use taxpayer dollars on infrastructure!

Have a highway that needs widening? A bridge that’s past its useful life? A water system with lead pipes that need replacing?

Congress voted on a bipartisan basis to make it easier to get those issues fixed. 

It’s a real head-scratcher why Republicans would now want to make that more difficult. 

Some have accused the Treasury Department of playing around with the expiration of this program. That hasn’t happened at all. It’s the same program with the same timeline and the same rules that Democrats and Republicans agreed on as recently as a few short months ago!

I mentioned at the outset that this resolution could put a stop-work order on thousands of projects nationwide. The numbers are enough to blow your head back. 

The Finance Committee asked the Treasury Department what the impact could be in specific states. Here are a few examples: 

  • In Georgia, 17 projects totaling $1.4 Billion could be terminated
  • Michigan, 160 projects totaling $597 Million
  • Ohio, 342 projects totaling $553 Million
  • Arizona, 50 projects totaling $519 Million 
  • Montana, 404 projects totaling $452 Million
  • West Virginia, 73 projects totaling $102 Million

Nationwide, there could be thousands of projects shut down. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of jobs lost. Higher costs for families and businesses that had to wait far too long for Congress to get serious about infrastructure. 

So the Senate is gearing up to vote, and this one is a head scratcher. 

Bipartisanship has been hard to come by around here, but the progress we’ve made on this issue is a major bipartisan highlight of the last several years.

It took a huge amount of work to put together the infrastructure law in a way that brought the two sides together. 

Senators Cornyn and Padilla added additional flexibility for this pool of funding. Their proposal passed by UC three times. 

I do not see any good reason for the Senate to backtrack on that bipartisan progress and leave more of our country’s infrastructure in a state of disrepair. 

I urge my colleagues to oppose the resolution.